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Maritime Shipping And Industry Guidelines Against Cyber-Insecurity

In a recent article, Maritime Digitalization and Communications – a magazine that publishes industry-wide news concerning maritime – presented a brief outline of major technologies that would transform the industry in 2019.

From significant increases in IoT technology to AI-based predictive positioning systems, the article suggested that maritime communications will not only improve vessels’ core operations, but also other key features will be modernised, such as vessel navigation systems, internal and external communications (broadband and satellite communications), ship monitoring systems, and, of course, the adoption of greater cybersecurity measures.

The latter feature, though, describes improvements in an area where many ship owners have demonstrated lack of industry initiative towards security and safety. This lack of progress and consensus has opened doors for organised criminal intrusions that have targeted maritime companies, particularly the commercial container shipping sector. The industry has fallen victim to several digital attacks over the past few years. These continuous online attacks, either directly or indirectly, have exposed a sense of vulnerability to cyberattacks within the industry that has not, in some cases, been rectified yet.

The unexpected cyber-attack that took the leading shipping behemoth by surprise

The well-known industry example often cited is the cyberattack on A.P. Moller Maersk which shook the company to its core, resulting in business and financial accounting disruptions which reportedly amounted to over $300 million in damages. Despite rapidly responding to the attack by tracking, identifying and removing malware from affected systems, the Copenhagen-based company exposed industry vulnerabilities in its IT infrastructure which could well have been prevented if industry-wide cybersecurity standards were in place.

As cybercriminals target vulnerabilities rooted in IT infrastructure and other aspects directly linked to chief characteristics of the maritime industry. These characteristics can increase the threat of malicious intrusions and are classified as follows:

  • Shipping companies typically share access to key backend systems with multiple users which have their own IT infrastructure system and cybersecurity approaches/standards.
  • Cybersecurity on vessels represents an issue since companies cannot control the IT structure of vessels chartered for a shorter period of time.
  • Some shipping companies have a specialised IT department located at headquarters, whereas remote operations rely on technical crew with limited IT knowledge.
  • Crew communications problems, mostly when employees perform in deep-sea waters, emphasizing a higher exposure to social engineering intrusions.
  • As for the movement of cargo, vessels moving through the vast ocean interact with different entities whose IT infrastructures and cybersecurity standards are not congruent to the practices implemented at headquarters.

Any possible weakness represents an opportunity for unscrupulous actors to illicitly access modern Information Communication Technology Systems (ICT) in an attempt to cause disruptions for multiple reasons, which could include: unethical competition, espionage, blackmail, or in certain cases, terrorism.

As such, why has the maritime shipping industry NOT developed and implemented any cybersecurity policies considering the current vulnerabilities owing to digital growth of systems onboard vessels and their connectivity to wireless networks around the world?

Voluntary and mandatory industry-specific guidelines

In spite of lower cybersecurity awareness, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had voluntarily presented in 2014 an industry-generic guideline which urged companies to follow a systematic approach to leverage cybersecurity measures based on 5 key functions: identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery. Whilst these functions shepherd cybersecurity specialists through a remarkable phase of recognition, analysis, and assessments against cyberattacks; shipping companies still require an additional ingredient for adopting such principles to the specific managerial demands and technical complexities embedded in maritime.

By extrapolating from the above-mention principles, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recently presented their own maritime-specific cyber-risk management strategy, also known as “Interim guidelines on maritime cyber-risk management”. The guideline ratifies the same practices developed by NIST, yet with a significant emphasis on involving senior management of the participating companies. Their goal is to educate shipping companies and other close actors about the importance of top-level cohesion to ensure that protection, contingency, and response planning are poised in relation to the threats, vulnerabilities, risk exposure, and potential consequences of cyberattacks.

IMO’s most relevant contribution to cybersecurity is also associated with their long-term plans after the catastrophic cyberattack that destabilised the Danish firm. The assembly has announced that they are now working on a set of mandatory guidelines which will come into effect on January, 1st 2021. Unfortunately, the IMO is not expecting shipping companies to abide by the new norms upon publication, which will delay the implementation of these guidelines further. It should also be mentioned that the possible legislation of these procedures will also take even greater time.

On a positive note, and in consideration to other companies that also fell victim to cyber intrusions (for instance: COSCO Shipping Lines and IRISL in 2018 and 2011 respectively), key international associations and institutions have joined forces to publish voluntary guidelines and awareness-rising collaterals to encourage maritime companies to integrate cybersecurity into physical security top-level strategies.

Influential actors including; BIMCO, Intercargo, OCIMF, the World Shipping Council and other maritime-related participants are committed to practical, security-conscious approaches to deter virtual criminals from weakening the industry while allowing IMO to materialize their mandatory guidelines. Their main purpose is to help companies understand the pillars of risk assessment and safety management systems to shun future cyber threats.

As for industry awareness, these guidelines will help generate greater interest, particularly for key stakeholders in the industry, that help evolve and modernise IT security strategies to augment security measures and encourage collaboration between companies. Through the management of campaigns, these institutions are planning to target a higher number of maritime organizations, customers, partners, insurance companies, and, more importantly, national governments.

Thus, under these circumstances, the final question is: will this holistic project be able to bring governments onboard as a contrivance to fast-track IMO’s cybersecurity guidelines and strengthen collaborations?

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="4813|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="none" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]http://217.199.187.200/valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/maersk-min-1024x576-1.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="none" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text] In a recent article, Maritime Digitalization and Communications - a magazine that publishes industry-wide news concerning maritime - presented a brief outline of major technologies that would transform the industry in 2019. From significant increases in IoT technology to AI-based predictive positioning systems, the article suggested that maritime communications will not only improve vessels’ core operations, but also other key features will be modernised, such as vessel navigation systems, internal and external communications (broadband and satellite communications), ship monitoring systems, and, of course, the adoption of greater cybersecurity measures. The latter feature, though, describes improvements in an area where many ship owners have demonstrated lack of industry initiative towards security and safety. This lack of progress and consensus has opened doors for organised criminal intrusions that have targeted maritime companies, particularly the commercial container shipping sector. The industry has fallen victim to several digital attacks over the past few years. These continuous online attacks, either directly or indirectly, have exposed a sense of vulnerability to cyberattacks within the industry that has not, in some cases, been rectified yet. The unexpected cyber-attack that took the leading shipping behemoth by surprise The well-known industry example often cited is the cyberattack on A.P. Moller Maersk which shook the company to its core, resulting in business and financial accounting disruptions which reportedly amounted to over $300 million in damages. Despite rapidly responding to the attack by tracking, identifying and removing malware from affected systems, the Copenhagen-based company exposed industry vulnerabilities in its IT infrastructure which could well have been prevented if industry-wide cybersecurity standards were in place. As cybercriminals target vulnerabilities rooted in IT infrastructure and other aspects directly linked to chief characteristics of the maritime industry. These characteristics can increase the threat of malicious intrusions and are classified as follows:
  • Shipping companies typically share access to key backend systems with multiple users which have their own IT infrastructure system and cybersecurity approaches/standards.
  • Cybersecurity on vessels represents an issue since companies cannot control the IT structure of vessels chartered for a shorter period of time.
  • Some shipping companies have a specialised IT department located at headquarters, whereas remote operations rely on technical crew with limited IT knowledge.
  • Crew communications problems, mostly when employees perform in deep-sea waters, emphasizing a higher exposure to social engineering intrusions.
  • As for the movement of cargo, vessels moving through the vast ocean interact with different entities whose IT infrastructures and cybersecurity standards are not congruent to the practices implemented at headquarters.
Any possible weakness represents an opportunity for unscrupulous actors to illicitly access modern Information Communication Technology Systems (ICT) in an attempt to cause disruptions for multiple reasons, which could include: unethical competition, espionage, blackmail, or in certain cases, terrorism. As such, why has the maritime shipping industry NOT developed and implemented any cybersecurity policies considering the current vulnerabilities owing to digital growth of systems onboard vessels and their connectivity to wireless networks around the world? Voluntary and mandatory industry-specific guidelines In spite of lower cybersecurity awareness, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had voluntarily presented in 2014 an industry-generic guideline which urged companies to follow a systematic approach to leverage cybersecurity measures based on 5 key functions: identification, protection, detection, response, and recovery. Whilst these functions shepherd cybersecurity specialists through a remarkable phase of recognition, analysis, and assessments against cyberattacks; shipping companies still require an additional ingredient for adopting such principles to the specific managerial demands and technical complexities embedded in maritime. By extrapolating from the above-mention principles, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has recently presented their own maritime-specific cyber-risk management strategy, also known as “Interim guidelines on maritime cyber-risk management”. The guideline ratifies the same practices developed by NIST, yet with a significant emphasis on involving senior management of the participating companies. Their goal is to educate shipping companies and other close actors about the importance of top-level cohesion to ensure that protection, contingency, and response planning are poised in relation to the threats, vulnerabilities, risk exposure, and potential consequences of cyberattacks. IMO’s most relevant contribution to cybersecurity is also associated with their long-term plans after the catastrophic cyberattack that destabilised the Danish firm. The assembly has announced that they are now working on a set of mandatory guidelines which will come into effect on January, 1st 2021. Unfortunately, the IMO is not expecting shipping companies to abide by the new norms upon publication, which will delay the implementation of these guidelines further. It should also be mentioned that the possible legislation of these procedures will also take even greater time. On a positive note, and in consideration to other companies that also fell victim to cyber intrusions (for instance: COSCO Shipping Lines and IRISL in 2018 and 2011 respectively), key international associations and institutions have joined forces to publish voluntary guidelines and awareness-rising collaterals to encourage maritime companies to integrate cybersecurity into physical security top-level strategies. Influential actors including; BIMCO, Intercargo, OCIMF, the World Shipping Council and other maritime-related participants are committed to practical, security-conscious approaches to deter virtual criminals from weakening the industry while allowing IMO to materialize their mandatory guidelines. Their main purpose is to help companies understand the pillars of risk assessment and safety management systems to shun future cyber threats. As for industry awareness, these guidelines will help generate greater interest, particularly for key stakeholders in the industry, that help evolve and modernise IT security strategies to augment security measures and encourage collaboration between companies. Through the management of campaigns, these institutions are planning to target a higher number of maritime organizations, customers, partners, insurance companies, and, more importantly, national governments. Thus, under these circumstances, the final question is: will this holistic project be able to bring governments onboard as a contrivance to fast-track IMO’s cybersecurity guidelines and strengthen collaborations? [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Apax Vobiscum

Inmarsat started off in 1979 as the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organisation created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for maritime use. They were funded by a group of 28 mainly maritime nations. In 1999, this rose to 86 countries and at the same time the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was introduced which allows safety, distress, navigation and weather broadcasts to be sent and received by any vessel – this is quite a convoluted history and not to be described here. Inmarsat and its array of geostationary orbit satellites took care of this.

In the mid to late 1990s, funding for new satellites became an issue. The original satellites used had been launched by the US Navy and by the European Space Agency (ESA). The life expectancy of a satellite in geostationary orbit is almost the same as for a domestic fridge/freezer, about 15-17 years, so a regular input of a large amount of capital is required. In 1998, it was agreed that Inmarsat would be ‘privatised’ although obligations for maintaining the system for public (maritime and avionic) safety were imposed. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organisation to be privatised. Originally it was owned as a private company by the signatory governments but APAX and Permira (both global investment firms) bought a majority stake in 2003 before floating it in 2005. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005

Since then Inmarsat has had its ups and downs. It was added to the FTSE 100 in 2008 and deleted in 2011, in again in 2015 and out again in 2016. In mid-2018, a rival satellite operator put in a bid to buy Inmarsat for 532p per share but that fell through. It was revealed this week that a consortium led by APAX is considering a bid for the company offering 550p per share, valuing the company at roughly £2.5 billion (US$3.3 billion).

What are the upsides of such an acquisition?

APAX is familiar with the business as they took Inmarsat public initially and have had stakes in Intelsat, Vizada (ex France Télécom Mobile Satellite Communications) and Telenor. Its French partner currently owns Marlink, the world’s largest maritime supplier of satellite communications including Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) services. Conveniently, it is one of Inmarsat’s biggest customers. Given Inmarsat’s already established penchant for vertical integration, this would doubtless be a boon.

A benefit of private ownership is the increase in focus as the ‘owners’ have more skin in the game and there is considerably less barracking from disgruntled shareholders should there be a blip in progress. Private companies can make decisions far more quickly than publically listed companies and, in general, are far more efficient. Inmarsat has acquired a number of down-stream service suppliers to the maritime industry that could be consolidated into a more dynamic supply force, bearing in mind that the UK Monopolies Commission (or any other country’s regulatory body) may have reservations about the reduction in competition.

A study in 2015 (Private versus public corporate ownership: Implications for future profitability – Kristian D. Allee – Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin, Brad A. Badertscher – Associate Professor University of Notre Dame and Teri Lombardi Yohn – Professor Indiana University) concluded that private companies are more profitable which they attribute to short-term focus in publicly-listed companies that have dividends and consistent profits to worry about.

This brings out another upside which is the ability of a privately held company to seriously consider long-term strategy goals. Changes in technology and the weathering (yes, space-weathering is a thing) means that Inmarsat has to have a rolling program for satellite upgrades and replacement and most programs range around 10-15 years long. Should the idea of an Internet in space (which Valour Consultancy particularly admires) become popular and competitors, or even Inmarsat, initiate a synergy between Geo-Stationary satellite and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks, then, as a private company, Inmarsat can quickly join in.

What are the downsides of such an acquisition?

Because Inmarsat is in the top 250 companies in the UK, raising capital for future investment should not be too much of a problem but it is considerably easier for a publicly listed company to arrange external finance than it is for private company, even one backed by such a large consortium of wealthy players.
In Inmarsat’s case company valuation and profile are not really an issue but being owned by a consortium of investment companies and pension funds does bring its own risks. No matter how much they may claim that their strategy is long-term, the nature of such beasts can be fickle. APAX has experience in the industry but also has experience in selling such companies on.

Finally there is the thorny issue of obligation and regulation. Inmarsat provides GMDSS services and these cannot be allowed to fail. If, for some reason, as a private company, Inmarsat was to run into trouble, then political entities would have to step in to save it and that always causes a backlash from the general public. Or another satellite company beginning with I would see some significant upsides.

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="4849|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="none" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]http://217.199.187.200/valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Inmarsat-min-1024x768-1.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="default" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text]Inmarsat started off in 1979 as the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organisation created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for maritime use. They were funded by a group of 28 mainly maritime nations. In 1999, this rose to 86 countries and at the same time the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) was introduced which allows safety, distress, navigation and weather broadcasts to be sent and received by any vessel – this is quite a convoluted history and not to be described here. Inmarsat and its array of geostationary orbit satellites took care of this. In the mid to late 1990s, funding for new satellites became an issue. The original satellites used had been launched by the US Navy and by the European Space Agency (ESA). The life expectancy of a satellite in geostationary orbit is almost the same as for a domestic fridge/freezer, about 15-17 years, so a regular input of a large amount of capital is required. In 1998, it was agreed that Inmarsat would be ‘privatised’ although obligations for maintaining the system for public (maritime and avionic) safety were imposed. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organisation to be privatised. Originally it was owned as a private company by the signatory governments but APAX and Permira (both global investment firms) bought a majority stake in 2003 before floating it in 2005. The company was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005 Since then Inmarsat has had its ups and downs. It was added to the FTSE 100 in 2008 and deleted in 2011, in again in 2015 and out again in 2016. In mid-2018, a rival satellite operator put in a bid to buy Inmarsat for 532p per share but that fell through. It was revealed this week that a consortium led by APAX is considering a bid for the company offering 550p per share, valuing the company at roughly £2.5 billion (US$3.3 billion). What are the upsides of such an acquisition? APAX is familiar with the business as they took Inmarsat public initially and have had stakes in Intelsat, Vizada (ex France Télécom Mobile Satellite Communications) and Telenor. Its French partner currently owns Marlink, the world’s largest maritime supplier of satellite communications including Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) services. Conveniently, it is one of Inmarsat’s biggest customers. Given Inmarsat’s already established penchant for vertical integration, this would doubtless be a boon. A benefit of private ownership is the increase in focus as the ‘owners’ have more skin in the game and there is considerably less barracking from disgruntled shareholders should there be a blip in progress. Private companies can make decisions far more quickly than publically listed companies and, in general, are far more efficient. Inmarsat has acquired a number of down-stream service suppliers to the maritime industry that could be consolidated into a more dynamic supply force, bearing in mind that the UK Monopolies Commission (or any other country’s regulatory body) may have reservations about the reduction in competition. A study in 2015 (Private versus public corporate ownership: Implications for future profitability – Kristian D. Allee - Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin, Brad A. Badertscher - Associate Professor University of Notre Dame and Teri Lombardi Yohn - Professor Indiana University) concluded that private companies are more profitable which they attribute to short-term focus in publicly-listed companies that have dividends and consistent profits to worry about. This brings out another upside which is the ability of a privately held company to seriously consider long-term strategy goals. Changes in technology and the weathering (yes, space-weathering is a thing) means that Inmarsat has to have a rolling program for satellite upgrades and replacement and most programs range around 10-15 years long. Should the idea of an Internet in space (which Valour Consultancy particularly admires) become popular and competitors, or even Inmarsat, initiate a synergy between Geo-Stationary satellite and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks, then, as a private company, Inmarsat can quickly join in. What are the downsides of such an acquisition? Because Inmarsat is in the top 250 companies in the UK, raising capital for future investment should not be too much of a problem but it is considerably easier for a publicly listed company to arrange external finance than it is for private company, even one backed by such a large consortium of wealthy players. In Inmarsat’s case company valuation and profile are not really an issue but being owned by a consortium of investment companies and pension funds does bring its own risks. No matter how much they may claim that their strategy is long-term, the nature of such beasts can be fickle. APAX has experience in the industry but also has experience in selling such companies on. Finally there is the thorny issue of obligation and regulation. Inmarsat provides GMDSS services and these cannot be allowed to fail. If, for some reason, as a private company, Inmarsat was to run into trouble, then political entities would have to step in to save it and that always causes a backlash from the general public. Or another satellite company beginning with I would see some significant upsides.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Satellites-U-Like

On 7th of March 2019, Inmarsat PLC announced its unaudited financial results for the year ended 31 December 2018, resulting in its share price rising from £399 to £453 over a four-day period post announcement, equating to 13.5 per cent increased, on the perception of this “excellent” performance. Inmarsat has exceeded expectations in both revenue and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Following the doomed attempt by EchoStar to take over Inmarsat last year, this has signalled more activities of takeovers and APAX Partners, a notable French investment firm that owns Marlink, proposed a $3.3 billion bid for the British GEO satellite company. Investors should prepare for a pleasant ride in the near future.

Over the past decade, Inmarsat has acquired five satellite communications equipment and service providers (Segovia, Stratos Global, Globe Wireless, TC Communications and Ship Equip) to materialise its vertical integration strategy. This strategy of providing an end-to-end service can provide benefits of scale, lower prices, offer some flexibility in discontinuing non-profitable equipment and thus gain a competitive advantage. But the drawbacks can also become difficult to deal with. These include excess assets and redundancy of supply, some restrictions of flexibility should any new game-changing companies make significant inroads into the market and could potentially result in Inmarsat losing focus. Installing satellite antennas on a freighter is vastly different from operating 6 tonne satellites 36,000 km above dear old Terra.

Satellite communication itself is a game-changer and has spawned what seems like a never-ending stream of baby game-changers. In Inmarsat’s webcast presentation of their results, phrases like “steady-state” and “assuming external market environment remains the same” cropped up. This is not going to happen, as I’m sure Inmarsat’s CEO and CFO know. There are over 540 satellites in geosynchronous orbit so there is quite a bit of competition at that level but it is LEO (Low Earth Orbit or less than 1,000 km orbital height) constellations of mini-, micro- and nano-satellites that can potentially create perturbations in the market environment. Typically, an operator will launch up to 80 small satellites each weighing less than 1,000kg, each of which will track a path around the earth every 100 minutes or so. These satellites are almost mass produced and they are able to put up to 7 satellites in orbit at every launch.

It can be argued that these are not direct competitors to Inmarsat because of the difference in data transmission speeds and capacity. This may be a partial truth but the majority of users of larger capacity satellites can utilise lower transmission speeds and capacity for the greater part of their data transmission needs.

The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) covers a large spectrum of users and relatively few require constant streaming bandwidth. Those that do also need security such as offered by blockchain. Blockchain is a massively power-hungry application; estimated in 2017 as using more power than the Republic of Ireland. This, of necessity, leads to the conclusion that only vital data needs immediate high transmission speeds and capacity. In fact, a paper given by Dr Anders Andrae of Huawei in October 2017 implies that such management of data may be necessary to forestall the information and communication technology industry becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of electricity (20% of total electricity consumed) by 2025.

For marine and avionic connectivity, the coverage is a very significant factor. Inmarsat is not 100% global as there are gaps in coverage over the poles which makes vessels using the newly opened northern passage through the (now) ice-free Arctic Sea and aircraft taking polar routes vulnerable to temporary disconnection. Typically, LEO constellations are 100% global. Both systems require clear line of sight to any one of the satellites. If the view of the satellite is obscured or otherwise unavailable then there will be no signal. Because Inmarsat’s satellites are in a fixed position and there is no line-of-sight to the satellite then there can be no connection. The user has to move to a different location for a clear line-of-sight to the satellite. With an LEO constellation, another satellite will be along very shortly to pick up the data-stream. With LEO constellations, the satellites move to the user; with Inmarsat the user must move to the satellites. However the movement of LEO constellations leads to variability of signal strength.

Obviously LEO constellations are a major intruder on Inmarsat’s profit-space. There are a quite a few companies rushing to intrude. Iridium is the first major player but Elon Musk’s Starlink, Hiber’s nano-constellation, Telesat Canada and Oneweb plan to join it. Globalstar and Orbcomm are also regional players.

Other game changers include Isotropic Systems whom signed a contract with Inmarsat to deliver miniaturised antennae and terminals, based on optical beam-forming technology, which can help introduce an age of ubiquitous satellite connectivity. Interestingly, there is a company called Audacy Space whose aim is to create the first commercial inter-satellite data relay system with global coverage. Some operators could be forced to erase valuable data due to limited downlink capacity. The “internet in space”, envisioned by Audacy, would allow operators to maximise capacity. The system would provide real-time connection between satellites and ground-based infrastructure.

Should Inmarsat and an LEO constellation operator synergise, then the potential for IIoT data transfer increases greatly.

The main contributors to Inmarsat’s revenue are its maritime, government and aviation segments. Its central services and enterprise business only contributed 18 per cent of total revenues.

Although Inmarsat remains bullish about maritime, as well they might, given the number of cruise ship new-builds (24 ships this year and 23 next year amounting to nearly 100,000 passengers). This point was subtly eluded to in its presentation roadmap, “Drive into new non-merchant VSAT segments”.

The maritime division’s biggest failing has been the lack of migration if its Fleetbroadband (FB) vessel customer base to its VSAT services. It managed to achieve a migration of 42 per cent of FB vessels rather its likely target of +70 per cent. As of the end of 2018, only 32,355 vessels subscribed to its FB services. Protecting and controlling these existing L-band customers will be vitally important. For its other maritime products, both Fleet One and equipment revenues achieved positive comparisons to 2017, however, its legacy business dropped more than $12 million resulting in an overall a drop of $4 million from 2017 to 2018, $93.7 million and $89.8 million, respectively.

Its government revenue was driven mostly by US military contracts which is roughly expected to increase year-on-year by 7 per cent through to 2027. Avionics revenue was bolstered significantly by In-Flight Connectivity product JetConneX increasing fivefold and overall core aviation business was up $22 million from 2017, almost reaching $155 million in 2018. The number of connected aircraft grew from 165 in 2017 to 428 in 2018. This growth is expected to continue but is very sensitive to ticketing prices and margin-squeezing in airlines’ turn-over. Typically, Airbus and Boeing will deliver 1000 aircraft a year between them, almost all will be passenger aircraft so the future looks bright for JetConneX.

IIoT is the great unknown. Valour Consultancy has a positive outlook on this and expects over the next decade that this sector will gradually supersede all others. Valour plans to produce a new syndicated report on maritime IoT trends and the connected digital ship outlining fundamental trends on what is and will be taking place in the next decade.

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_imageframe image_id="4851|full" max_width="" style_type="" blur="" stylecolor="" hover_type="none" bordersize="" bordercolor="" borderradius="" align="center" lightbox="no" gallery_id="" lightbox_image="" lightbox_image_id="" alt="" link="" linktarget="_self" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="0.3" animation_offset=""]http://217.199.187.200/valourconsultancy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/InmarsatLogo_Inmarsat4X3-879x485-2.jpg[/fusion_imageframe][fusion_separator style_type="default" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" sep_color="#ffffff" top_margin="20" bottom_margin="20" border_size="" icon="" icon_circle="" icon_circle_color="" width="" alignment="center" /][fusion_text]On 7th of March 2019, Inmarsat PLC announced its unaudited financial results for the year ended 31 December 2018, resulting in its share price rising from £399 to £453 over a four-day period post announcement, equating to 13.5 per cent increased, on the perception of this “excellent” performance. Inmarsat has exceeded expectations in both revenue and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Following the doomed attempt by EchoStar to take over Inmarsat last year, this has signalled more activities of takeovers and APAX Partners, a notable French investment firm that owns Marlink, proposed a $3.3 billion bid for the British GEO satellite company. Investors should prepare for a pleasant ride in the near future. Over the past decade, Inmarsat has acquired five satellite communications equipment and service providers (Segovia, Stratos Global, Globe Wireless, TC Communications and Ship Equip) to materialise its vertical integration strategy. This strategy of providing an end-to-end service can provide benefits of scale, lower prices, offer some flexibility in discontinuing non-profitable equipment and thus gain a competitive advantage. But the drawbacks can also become difficult to deal with. These include excess assets and redundancy of supply, some restrictions of flexibility should any new game-changing companies make significant inroads into the market and could potentially result in Inmarsat losing focus. Installing satellite antennas on a freighter is vastly different from operating 6 tonne satellites 36,000 km above dear old Terra. Satellite communication itself is a game-changer and has spawned what seems like a never-ending stream of baby game-changers. In Inmarsat’s webcast presentation of their results, phrases like “steady-state” and “assuming external market environment remains the same” cropped up. This is not going to happen, as I’m sure Inmarsat’s CEO and CFO know. There are over 540 satellites in geosynchronous orbit so there is quite a bit of competition at that level but it is LEO (Low Earth Orbit or less than 1,000 km orbital height) constellations of mini-, micro- and nano-satellites that can potentially create perturbations in the market environment. Typically, an operator will launch up to 80 small satellites each weighing less than 1,000kg, each of which will track a path around the earth every 100 minutes or so. These satellites are almost mass produced and they are able to put up to 7 satellites in orbit at every launch. It can be argued that these are not direct competitors to Inmarsat because of the difference in data transmission speeds and capacity. This may be a partial truth but the majority of users of larger capacity satellites can utilise lower transmission speeds and capacity for the greater part of their data transmission needs. The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) covers a large spectrum of users and relatively few require constant streaming bandwidth. Those that do also need security such as offered by blockchain. Blockchain is a massively power-hungry application; estimated in 2017 as using more power than the Republic of Ireland. This, of necessity, leads to the conclusion that only vital data needs immediate high transmission speeds and capacity. In fact, a paper given by Dr Anders Andrae of Huawei in October 2017 implies that such management of data may be necessary to forestall the information and communication technology industry becoming one of the world’s largest consumers of electricity (20% of total electricity consumed) by 2025. For marine and avionic connectivity, the coverage is a very significant factor. Inmarsat is not 100% global as there are gaps in coverage over the poles which makes vessels using the newly opened northern passage through the (now) ice-free Arctic Sea and aircraft taking polar routes vulnerable to temporary disconnection. Typically, LEO constellations are 100% global. Both systems require clear line of sight to any one of the satellites. If the view of the satellite is obscured or otherwise unavailable then there will be no signal. Because Inmarsat's satellites are in a fixed position and there is no line-of-sight to the satellite then there can be no connection. The user has to move to a different location for a clear line-of-sight to the satellite. With an LEO constellation, another satellite will be along very shortly to pick up the data-stream. With LEO constellations, the satellites move to the user; with Inmarsat the user must move to the satellites. However the movement of LEO constellations leads to variability of signal strength. Obviously LEO constellations are a major intruder on Inmarsat’s profit-space. There are a quite a few companies rushing to intrude. Iridium is the first major player but Elon Musk’s Starlink, Hiber’s nano-constellation, Telesat Canada and Oneweb plan to join it. Globalstar and Orbcomm are also regional players. Other game changers include Isotropic Systems whom signed a contract with Inmarsat to deliver miniaturised antennae and terminals, based on optical beam-forming technology, which can help introduce an age of ubiquitous satellite connectivity. Interestingly, there is a company called Audacy Space whose aim is to create the first commercial inter-satellite data relay system with global coverage. Some operators could be forced to erase valuable data due to limited downlink capacity. The “internet in space”, envisioned by Audacy, would allow operators to maximise capacity. The system would provide real-time connection between satellites and ground-based infrastructure. Should Inmarsat and an LEO constellation operator synergise, then the potential for IIoT data transfer increases greatly. The main contributors to Inmarsat’s revenue are its maritime, government and aviation segments. Its central services and enterprise business only contributed 18 per cent of total revenues. Although Inmarsat remains bullish about maritime, as well they might, given the number of cruise ship new-builds (24 ships this year and 23 next year amounting to nearly 100,000 passengers). This point was subtly eluded to in its presentation roadmap, “Drive into new non-merchant VSAT segments”. The maritime division's biggest failing has been the lack of migration if its Fleetbroadband (FB) vessel customer base to its VSAT services. It managed to achieve a migration of 42 per cent of FB vessels rather its likely target of +70 per cent. As of the end of 2018, only 32,355 vessels subscribed to its FB services. Protecting and controlling these existing L-band customers will be vitally important. For its other maritime products, both Fleet One and equipment revenues achieved positive comparisons to 2017, however, its legacy business dropped more than $12 million resulting in an overall a drop of $4 million from 2017 to 2018, $93.7 million and $89.8 million, respectively. Its government revenue was driven mostly by US military contracts which is roughly expected to increase year-on-year by 7 per cent through to 2027. Avionics revenue was bolstered significantly by In-Flight Connectivity product JetConneX increasing fivefold and overall core aviation business was up $22 million from 2017, almost reaching $155 million in 2018. The number of connected aircraft grew from 165 in 2017 to 428 in 2018. This growth is expected to continue but is very sensitive to ticketing prices and margin-squeezing in airlines’ turn-over. Typically, Airbus and Boeing will deliver 1000 aircraft a year between them, almost all will be passenger aircraft so the future looks bright for JetConneX. IIoT is the great unknown. Valour Consultancy has a positive outlook on this and expects over the next decade that this sector will gradually supersede all others. Valour plans to produce a new syndicated report on maritime IoT trends and the connected digital ship outlining fundamental trends on what is and will be taking place in the next decade.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Dr Jekyll and Methane Hydrate

Foreshadowing Valour Consultancy’s report entitled “A Deep Dive Insight into Maritime Energy”, this is a snapshot of a lesser publicised source of energy that is about to be exploited.

The largest reservoir of untapped hydrocarbon energy in the world is not in some Sheikh’s back garden or under the control of a democratically elected despot. It is methane trapped in permafrost, lake beds and in continental shelves. A latest survey by the USCG (a science agency for the Department of the Interior, within the United States of America’s government) estimates that the minimum is more than 4000 times the amount of natural gas consumed in the United States of America in 2010, or somewhere between 105 and 5×106 Trillion Cubic Feet (or 140,000 Trillion Cubic Metres), in layman terms.

As yet, this reservoir is virtually untapped, presently in the form of Methane Clathrate which is basically, a molecule of methane (CH4), trapped inside a cage of water crystal. I might use the word “ice” but it isn’t exactly the ice we are familiar with. Water takes a rather bohemian approach to crystallisation and adapts itself according to the temperature, pressure and the presence of other associative gases in which it forms. There are, at least, 13 different types of ice crystals. The one we lovingly drop into our whisky glass occurs at 0°C and atmospheric pressure but the one we are interested in forms at high pressure (40 bar) or higher and low temperature -2°C. We find just these requirements at 460m and below the surface of the ocean on continental shelves. The water molecules form a little cage and capture a methane molecule in the centre – other molecules such as propane and carbon dioxide could also captured.

These little cages tend to stick together and form lumps or bergs and are troublesome in gas pipelines as they plug them up. It has been postulated that such a plug contributed to the problems trying to seal the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Map of potential hydrate recovered and inferred sites

(Source: the USGS)

These clathrates are ubiquitous so why have they not already been exploited?

Primarily because it has been very difficult to do so. Now, several countries already have significant programs underway. Those without significant native reserves of hydrocarbons, such as China, Japan, Korea and India lead the way (with input from the United States of America).

The below timeline illustrates the past drilling activities conducted by countries, private sector firms, government agencies, and academe that have helped to refine global gas hydrate estimates and possible future drilling and production testin

(Source: the USGS)

Interestingly, the last two pictures might give some indication of why there are conflicting claims of territorial authority off the shore of China and the countries neighbouring the South China Sea, and between Japan and Korea.

Ignoring the economic, moral and technical problems of methane recovery, we shall look at the pros and cons, the dangers if we do and the dangers if we don’t.

Methane is a good energy source. When burnt, the exhaust is mostly CO2 and water, with many less additional side products than any other combustion processes. Given that methane is 21 times as powerful greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, then it follows that it is better to burn it than let it out into the atmosphere. Space X, the venture owned by Elon Musk, is experimenting with using methane as potential rocket fuel highlighting its energy-rich density.

Methane is also cheap and, if we get the technology right, it should be easy to exploit. Clathrates are relatively accessible but difficult to recover as it does not flow easily. The reclamation of the methane might be more damaging to the marine ecosystem than either fracking or oil-well drilling. Many patents for recovering methane for clathrate rich sediment involve either turning the seams into a slurry or fine particulate and taking it to the surface for separation and returning the mining waste back down into the sea bed. Many deposits are thought to occur in sediment within the top 200-400m of the seabed surface.

(Source: Types of Methane Hydrate Deposits – US Office of Fossil Energy)

While this does sound a rather heedless course of action, disrespectful in the extreme of sealife, it does present the opportunity to sequester carbon dioxide which could be mixed with waste and turned into a CO2 clathrate to replace the CH4 clathrate that was mined.

There is a hypothesis that a changing climate will exponentially increase subsea methane emission causing possible continental shelf subsea landslides with subsequent tsunamis. Others postulate that a changing climate might weaken the clathrate matrix and a trigger, such as an earthquake, will have the same effect. On the other hand, scientists suggest that methane emission is far more likely to be gradual and not result in any immediate trigger events. What is clear is that our projections on climate change and the repercussions are still in their infancy.

It should also be noted that, previously collected ice pack core samples, methane in the atmosphere has been stable for the last 800,000 years and has climbed rapidly during the last 100 years fourfold. There is no evidence to suggest that this increase is due to seepage from clathrates as many other sources of methane have increased substantially in the last 100 years such as cattle ranching and urban waste decomposition.

Methane is a very dangerous but relatively short-term greenhouse gas. It decomposes in about 12 years rather than nitrous oxide which take 114 years to decompose or thousands of years like carbon dioxide. Methane is also a food for bacteria. These bacteria, methanophiles, reside in oceans, mud, marshes, underground environments, soils, rice paddies, and landfills and comprise a significant factor in the global methane budget. It has been suggested that these bacteria consume up to 90% of methane potentially available.

Of course, where there are bacteria, there are cute little creatures that eat bacteria such as the methane worms found swarming over a methane clathrate seepage in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska. These worms can survive for periods in anoxic environments (without oxygen), such as the ocean dead zones – areas where “excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors have deplete the oxygen required to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water”, states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many documented dead zones occur off the east coast of the USA, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Baltic Sea.

(Source: Lara Cerri)

In Summary

PROS

  • Methane is an abundant supply of cheap, relatively clean fuel
  • Once the technology is sufficiently refined, it should be cheap to extract
  • The extraction process should allow the sequestration of significant amounts of carbon dioxide
  • Using the methane as fuel precludes it becoming a greenhouse gas problem.

CONS

  • Extraction is likely to be environmentally damaging to the marine seabed
  • Because methane clathrates form plugs very easily, there is significant danger of accidental release, an explosion and greater pollution
  • Territorial disputes over seabed extraction rights will doubtlessly increase
  • The extraction of methane might destroy the biosphere of a creature that can survive and prosper in a toxic environment. The creatures’ ability to adapt its special physiology, anatomy, and behaviour are the kind of qualities humanity might need for exploring and exploiting the solar system and beyond
  • While the methane hydrates stay in the seabed, there is always the hypothesised danger of a seabed slip and the release of billions of tons of methane directly into the atmosphere with the concomitant effect on global warming. Replacing the methane with carbon dioxide would not alleviate this danger and such sequestration might actually trigger that release.
  • The same seabed slips might cause mega-tsunamis. After one mega-tsunami in 6200BC, off the Norwegian coast, scientists found leftover traces of this event 80km inland along the central belt of Scotland. There is no proof that this continental shelf collapse was associated with clathrate release, however. The people of Inverness might not be too pleased with such an event repeating itself.

Note: Clathrates are sometimes referred to as hydrates. There is a difference. A clathrate implies the guest gas is trapped or caged inside the host molecule whereas a hydrate implies a chemical bond. To the best of our understanding, methane does not form a chemical bond with its host water crystal.

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[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="no" equal_height_columns="no" menu_anchor="" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" class="" id="" background_color="" background_image="" background_position="center center" background_repeat="no-repeat" fade="no" background_parallax="none" parallax_speed="0.3" video_mp4="" video_webm="" video_ogv="" video_url="" video_aspect_ratio="16:9" video_loop="yes" video_mute="yes" overlay_color="" video_preview_image="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" padding_top="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" padding_right=""][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" layout="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" border_position="all" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding_top="" padding_right="" padding_bottom="" padding_left="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility" center_content="no" last="no" min_height="" hover_type="none" link=""][fusion_text] Foreshadowing Valour Consultancy’s report entitled “A Deep Dive Insight into Maritime Energy”, this is a snapshot of a lesser publicised source of energy that is about to be exploited. The largest reservoir of untapped hydrocarbon energy in the world is not in some Sheikh’s back garden or under the control of a democratically elected despot. It is methane trapped in permafrost, lake beds and in continental shelves. A latest survey by the USCG (a science agency for the Department of the Interior, within the United States of America’s government) estimates that the minimum is more than 4000 times the amount of natural gas consumed in the United States of America in 2010, or somewhere between 105 and 5x106 Trillion Cubic Feet (or 140,000 Trillion Cubic Metres), in layman terms. As yet, this reservoir is virtually untapped, presently in the form of Methane Clathrate which is basically, a molecule of methane (CH4), trapped inside a cage of water crystal. I might use the word “ice” but it isn’t exactly the ice we are familiar with. Water takes a rather bohemian approach to crystallisation and adapts itself according to the temperature, pressure and the presence of other associative gases in which it forms. There are, at least, 13 different types of ice crystals. The one we lovingly drop into our whisky glass occurs at 0°C and atmospheric pressure but the one we are interested in forms at high pressure (40 bar) or higher and low temperature -2°C. We find just these requirements at 460m and below the surface of the ocean on continental shelves. The water molecules form a little cage and capture a methane molecule in the centre – other molecules such as propane and carbon dioxide could also captured. These little cages tend to stick together and form lumps or bergs and are troublesome in gas pipelines as they plug them up. It has been postulated that such a plug contributed to the problems trying to seal the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Map of potential hydrate recovered and inferred sites

(Source: the USGS)

These clathrates are ubiquitous so why have they not already been exploited? Primarily because it has been very difficult to do so. Now, several countries already have significant programs underway. Those without significant native reserves of hydrocarbons, such as China, Japan, Korea and India lead the way (with input from the United States of America). The below timeline illustrates the past drilling activities conducted by countries, private sector firms, government agencies, and academe that have helped to refine global gas hydrate estimates and possible future drilling and production testin

(Source: the USGS)

Interestingly, the last two pictures might give some indication of why there are conflicting claims of territorial authority off the shore of China and the countries neighbouring the South China Sea, and between Japan and Korea. Ignoring the economic, moral and technical problems of methane recovery, we shall look at the pros and cons, the dangers if we do and the dangers if we don’t. Methane is a good energy source. When burnt, the exhaust is mostly CO2 and water, with many less additional side products than any other combustion processes. Given that methane is 21 times as powerful greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide, then it follows that it is better to burn it than let it out into the atmosphere. Space X, the venture owned by Elon Musk, is experimenting with using methane as potential rocket fuel highlighting its energy-rich density. Methane is also cheap and, if we get the technology right, it should be easy to exploit. Clathrates are relatively accessible but difficult to recover as it does not flow easily. The reclamation of the methane might be more damaging to the marine ecosystem than either fracking or oil-well drilling. Many patents for recovering methane for clathrate rich sediment involve either turning the seams into a slurry or fine particulate and taking it to the surface for separation and returning the mining waste back down into the sea bed. Many deposits are thought to occur in sediment within the top 200-400m of the seabed surface.

(Source: Types of Methane Hydrate Deposits - US Office of Fossil Energy)

While this does sound a rather heedless course of action, disrespectful in the extreme of sealife, it does present the opportunity to sequester carbon dioxide which could be mixed with waste and turned into a CO2 clathrate to replace the CH4 clathrate that was mined. There is a hypothesis that a changing climate will exponentially increase subsea methane emission causing possible continental shelf subsea landslides with subsequent tsunamis. Others postulate that a changing climate might weaken the clathrate matrix and a trigger, such as an earthquake, will have the same effect. On the other hand, scientists suggest that methane emission is far more likely to be gradual and not result in any immediate trigger events. What is clear is that our projections on climate change and the repercussions are still in their infancy. It should also be noted that, previously collected ice pack core samples, methane in the atmosphere has been stable for the last 800,000 years and has climbed rapidly during the last 100 years fourfold. There is no evidence to suggest that this increase is due to seepage from clathrates as many other sources of methane have increased substantially in the last 100 years such as cattle ranching and urban waste decomposition. Methane is a very dangerous but relatively short-term greenhouse gas. It decomposes in about 12 years rather than nitrous oxide which take 114 years to decompose or thousands of years like carbon dioxide. Methane is also a food for bacteria. These bacteria, methanophiles, reside in oceans, mud, marshes, underground environments, soils, rice paddies, and landfills and comprise a significant factor in the global methane budget. It has been suggested that these bacteria consume up to 90% of methane potentially available. Of course, where there are bacteria, there are cute little creatures that eat bacteria such as the methane worms found swarming over a methane clathrate seepage in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska. These worms can survive for periods in anoxic environments (without oxygen), such as the ocean dead zones – areas where "excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors have deplete the oxygen required to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water”, states the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many documented dead zones occur off the east coast of the USA, the Gulf of Mexico and in the Baltic Sea.

(Source: Lara Cerri)

In Summary PROS
  • Methane is an abundant supply of cheap, relatively clean fuel
  • Once the technology is sufficiently refined, it should be cheap to extract
  • The extraction process should allow the sequestration of significant amounts of carbon dioxide
  • Using the methane as fuel precludes it becoming a greenhouse gas problem.
CONS
  • Extraction is likely to be environmentally damaging to the marine seabed
  • Because methane clathrates form plugs very easily, there is significant danger of accidental release, an explosion and greater pollution
  • Territorial disputes over seabed extraction rights will doubtlessly increase
  • The extraction of methane might destroy the biosphere of a creature that can survive and prosper in a toxic environment. The creatures’ ability to adapt its special physiology, anatomy, and behaviour are the kind of qualities humanity might need for exploring and exploiting the solar system and beyond
  • While the methane hydrates stay in the seabed, there is always the hypothesised danger of a seabed slip and the release of billions of tons of methane directly into the atmosphere with the concomitant effect on global warming. Replacing the methane with carbon dioxide would not alleviate this danger and such sequestration might actually trigger that release.
  • The same seabed slips might cause mega-tsunamis. After one mega-tsunami in 6200BC, off the Norwegian coast, scientists found leftover traces of this event 80km inland along the central belt of Scotland. There is no proof that this continental shelf collapse was associated with clathrate release, however. The people of Inverness might not be too pleased with such an event repeating itself.
Note: Clathrates are sometimes referred to as hydrates. There is a difference. A clathrate implies the guest gas is trapped or caged inside the host molecule whereas a hydrate implies a chemical bond. To the best of our understanding, methane does not form a chemical bond with its host water crystal. [/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]