Shell’s Louisiana headquarters is packed with sophisticated technology designed to monitor the company’s numerous offshore oil wells, which dot the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
A simple map just won't do. When you're the world's largest oil company, the SEPCOVE (Shell Exploration and Production Collaborative Virtual Environment) is what you use to explain your work to visitors.
It’s a 3D wrap-around theater that can map out every single well in Shell's worldwide portfolio.
Lately, they've been pulling up one particular model, which has been getting a lot of attention within the company.
“We look forward to exploring Alaska responsibly,” said Steve Phelps, Alaska exploration manager, during a recent demonstration.
“That is our jewel in the crown,” he said pointing at one of the leases, “that is the one that we want to drill.”
He's talking about a site in the Chukchi Sea named, of all things, Burger.
Yes it sounds silly, just like the other drill sites -- Popcorn, Klondike, and Crackerjack, to name a few.
“Don't ask me about the lunacy of the names, I have no idea who chose them,” said Phelps.
But if Burger's as juicy as project managers think it is, Shell says it could rank among the top 10 largest oilfields in the United States.
“It’s at least a billion barrels,” said Phelps, reluctant to offer a more precise figure.
Shell sees the offshore arctic as a potential long-term source of domestic energy, to power America’s largely fossil fuel economy.
“To have that much oil in one place in one pool is, what’s the best word? Iconic, probably,” said Phelps.
Yet that's what scares some people most about Shell and its plans for the icy waters off Alaska's north coast -- that there's potentially a lot of oil, about to be tapped in such a remote place.
“The problem with Shell is there's a big gap between their policies and their actions,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a non-profit that works with communities to help them counteract the negative effects of the oil industry.
So what are the policies?
Shell invited journalists behind the scenes of its Louisiana headquarters, for a tour of the technology the company says should change peoples’ perspective on offshore drilling.
Shell says it's the only oil company to monitor its offshore operations 24/7 from onshore offices, where drilling experts watch the same data that their colleagues hundreds of miles at sea have access to.
They chat with the team on the rig or platform, and have a significant amount of control.
“I could take the wells and actually shut the wells in from here,” said Russell Saltzman, an onshore controller for one of the producing platforms. He points to a bright red icon on his computer screen.