Canada’s oil and gas industry says a fond farewell to one of its greatest voices

Bill-Whitelaw: Remembering Gordon JaremkoIf the Canadian oil and gas industry could boast of producing a public intellectual, one name and one voice spring readily to mind.

Gordon Jaremko.

Historian. Author. Journalist.

All describe him accurately. But there’s really just one word that describes him best.

Steward.

It’s a fitting descriptor because Gord saw his responsibility to the sector through the lens of stewardship; that he had a crucial role to play in developing and nurturing the industry’s sense of itself and its progressive evolution over time.

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KEEP AN EYE ON ALBERTA 

Indeed, Gord authored Steward in 2013, a work honouring 75 years of service of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to the province’s real resource wealth owners: its citizens. Steward was commissioned by the AER to celebrate and honour the men and women whose dedication to conservation and regulation in the public interest helped Alberta stand out as a shining global example of how such systems should really work. Gord spent a year embedded within the regulator’s hallways, offices, cubicles, and field stations talking to people. Talking and chronicling.

But in fact, Steward was written by a real steward – an individual whose personal ethos and respect for the public interest very much aligned with the regulator’s. Like all journalists and historians, Gord had an agenda, but it wasn’t his. It was driven by what he believed the public would have him do.

Gord passed just recently at 76, and his departure leaves a massive hole in the way our industry ought to contemplate its past in order to understand its future.

Through Gord’s substantive curiosity and nuanced prose, the industry came to life in ways that illuminated its influence on daily life in Alberta and the influence of Alberta on daily lives in Confederation.

He lived and breathed the energy business, for all its beauty and blemishes. But perhaps more importantly, he loved the people of energy – the people from the sector’s myriad walks of life. Gord was as comfortable on a rig floor as he was in a downtown Calgary boardroom and all points in between.

For many years, Gord edited Oilweek magazine – for decades the industry’s influential periodical of choice. As do all responsible leaders of great publications, Gord worked diligently to ensure Oilweek told the right stories, about the right people, and at the right time. But “stories” to Gord were more than just ad hoc features and news; they were the thematic building blocks that weekly and monthly built narratives via which the sector could use as illumination on pathways forward – through times of great prosperity but equally in times of hopelessness and despair.

But it was people who powered Gord’s passion. For him, it was people who unlocked Canadian resource wealth and translated it into a better society.

He didn’t distinguish a rig hand from a cabinet minister in terms of importance: to Gord, they were all critical human linchpins that linked the sector together.

There was no part of the sector – or person of the sector – that wasn’t the source of inspiration and insight for offering his readers a different lens on how the sector works. While Gord, like many journalists, spent time in the newspaper sector, including the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, his real passion was energy news. Indeed, at his passing, he was still active as the Canadian correspondent for Natural Gas Intelligence.

The oil and gas sector is very good at many things. And it’s bad at many things. One of its more egregious faults is how we misremember our history. Accomplishments of decades past are too often cloaked in gauzy sepia remembrances instead of being treated as critical signposts to future destinations.

That, too, is part of history’s fault. If the past is boring, dull, and easy to forget, it is often because history itself makes it so.

But not Gord’s history. He was, for a long time and remains even in passing, a standard setter for energy journalism. But journalism itself is a form of history, and Gord brought the two worlds together seamlessly. He was inducted into the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame in 2015 for both those attributes: his journalism to tell the sector’s stories in the present and his history to keep them alive in the past. He authored and co-authored great works like The Great Oil Age and Fields of Fire: An Illustrated History of Canadian Petroleum.

If Gord had a mission in life, it was to ensure the past speaks volumes to the future. He saw history not as the dull chronicling of facts tied to time scales, not as a rear-view mirror glance to yesterday, but as the pointer through the windshield to roads ahead.

Gordon Jaremko was the epitome of modesty and humility; to hear himself called an industry intellectual would almost certainly bring a gentle grimace to his face. But his legacy will be that of all true intellectuals: lasting marks made with an ethos of earnestness and devoid of any hubris.

Our industry was all the better because of Gord’s presence; his absence should remind us of the foundations his contributions helped build, and that will see us through time.

In Steward, Gord’s last paragraph sums up the AER’s past to point to its future:

“Maturing at age 75 into the new AER, the provincial resource steward was busier than ever, preparing to keep on managing traffic at the bustling intersection of Alberta’s growing energy, economic, and environmental interests.”

A great epilogue, crafted by a great steward.

Bill Whitelaw is the Managing Director of Strategy & Sustainability with Geologic Systems.

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