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Saboteurs by Andrew Nikiforuk Macfarlane, Walter & Ross Publishers 270 pages, hard cover, $34.99

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Alberta is the richest province in the country-and the sickest-because of its money-hungry oil industry

Alberta is the richest province in the country-and the sickest-because of its money-hungry oil industry.

Sour gas flares from oil wells emit pollution that causes mammals-human and livestock-to abort their young and/or give born to dead offspring. Toxic waste from crude oil separators contaminates groundwater, destroys grazing land and stunts cattle and horses. Radioactive contamination seeps into the aquifier. The results of a study to assess the health effects of gas flare emissions and crude oil waste on human health, cattle and birds and paid for by Alberta and three other provinces are not expected until 2006 or later!

In the meantime, Alberta's oil industry provides jobs for millions, both directly and indirectly. Failing farmers pay their land taxes through monies from oil wells drilled on their land. And the Alberta government gets one-third of its total revenue from oil and gas and so does not charge provincial sales tax on goods and services.

This is the political/industrial climate that a Dutch-born schoolteacher and preacher entered in 1985. Wiebo Ludwig had a dream. Disillusioned with society and the rapid decline of family values, he wanted to separate as much as possible from destructive 20th-century pressures and build a rural life for himself, his wife, Mamie, and their nine children.
His search took him to the beautiful and quiet Peace River country of Grande Prairie, Alberta, near the BC border. Wiebo called his homestead Trickle Creek. The nearest community is Hythe, situated 12 kilometres southeast of the Wiebo farm. The Hythe residents depend on oil for their livelihoods, as do those in many other small Alberta towns.
Unknownst to Wiebo, when he bought his quarter section of land for $50,000 in 1985, there is a particularly large and deep gas formation in the subterranean coral reef.

In 1990 surveyors employed by Ranchmen's Resources Ltd., a Calgary-based oil company, arrived at Trickle Creek to work a deal. They told Wiebo that the company had mineral rights to his property and they wanted to drill a well.

Wiebo said they were there to farm and to live a quiet life. Thank you. Goodbye.

That was not the end of the story.

The feisty Dutch farmer captured the attention of the national press for four years until his trial on a charge of sabotage and his subsequent prison sentence in a minimum-security jail in Grande Cache. That was in 2000.

Freelance journalist Andrew Nikiforuk covered the story from the beginning for many mainstream papers, including full-page stories in the Globe and Mail. He has been working on this book for all that time. It's now available and it's a must-read.

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