Journally Speaking: Wren and robin

Jan. 4, 2021

The date is Dec. 21, 2020, Midwinter, the winter solstice—the longest night of what was a trying year for all of us. For the oil and gas industry—indeed, for humanity as a whole—2020 was a step into the darkest part of the woods, a walk into the alternate universe of some unscripted, never-ending horror or science fiction flick. The unimaginable became reality, and the inconceivable—a part of our everyday lives.

Even in the unknowable darkness, however, we somehow managed to find our paths forward. Old ways of doing things gave way to new ones. Unpredictability gave birth to innovation, and while some in our industry resisted the changes, many embraced them.

The fact of the matter is, the Wheel of the Year keeps turning, like it or not. At Midwinter, the evergreen Holly King and his wren seasonally give way to usher in the Oak King with his robin, who bring with them the waxing of the renewed sun, the birth of new light, and a promise of renewal and rebirth—all of which happen in the darkest of hours.

Signs, signals

As a child of the Celtic tree alphabet and astrological sign of the vine—a tree itself sacred to Dionysos, the great balancer of the tension of all opposites—this editor can readily appreciate the difficulty many global downstream operators face in embracing the inevitable transformation that has long-been coming. While the multitude of projects announced during 2020 involving the conversion of existing as well as proposed construction of new refineries based on renewable feedstock has met with mixed feelings in the broader oil and gas space, what industry must remember is that transition is the hallmark of existence, human or otherwise.

Unlike some naysayers proclaiming the bold move by refiners to so rapidly reshape operations to conform to greener, cleaner energy initiatives as either rash or solely in deference to the death knell for the long-reigning traditional petroleum industry anticipated because of a changing US political landscape, this editor sees it as global refiners rightfully embracing opportunities to ensure longevity and survival. Whether traditional oil and gas operators like it or not, the global energy mix is changing. While the prospect is understandably frightening for an industry so ingrained in doing things the way in which it has done them for so long, are evolving processes and practices to survive really such bad things? Is this not what oil and gas producers and processors have done since the industry’s inception?

The prospect of change is unquestionably frightening. We all learned that during 2020 as what seemed to be an initially contained coronavirus (COVID-19) erupted into a global pandemic. Life as most of us had known it up to those dark March days ground to a halt virtually overnight, and while many have since become mired in wondering about the whys and hows of it all, the only takeaways that matter now are that one way of living ended and another began. In the face of what appeared insurmountable, we adapted and thrived.

Endings and beginning. Death and rebirth. This is the inevitable and inescapable cycle of everything.

Wren or robin?

There are variations on the Midwinter tale and its many metaphors, but in all of them, one element holds true: the Holly King and the Oak King, the wren and the robin—neither one can hope to exist without the other. The beauty of the wheel of the seasons is that it keeps turning, keeps cycling. The landscapes will visually change, light and dark will alternate reigns, but ultimately, each needs the other to survive.

In whatever new shapes it may take, the oil and gas industry, as well as the science and innovations it has birthed, will persist. Changing forms, perhaps, as everything changes forms, but adapting and enduring still.

May all of us in 2021 remember to honor the rich history of our industry’s past while—hopefully and with gratitude—looking brightly towards the encouraging possibilities of its future.