Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company Pemex said that its oil pipelines have been overrun by organized crime groups, with fuel theft increasing dramatically this year.

In an announcement this week, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) claimed that more than 2.4 million barrels of oil had been siphoned off from company facilities in the first nine months of 2010. This amounts to a 61 percent increase from the same period in 2010, when less than 1.5 million barrels were taken. Meanwhile, the oil company reportedly caught 100 individuals in the act of stealing fuel, 96 of whom were arrested.

The upsurge is likely due to Mexican criminal groups broadening their criminal portfolios to include oil theft, a phenomenon which InSight Crime has documented. According to Pemex’s press release, the company's pipelines have been "practically taken over by bands of organized criminals linked to heavily armed groups."

The Mexican government has raised the alarm over oil theft over the past several years, claiming that it costs the country some $1 billion per year in lost revenue.

But while the phenomenon has largely been blamed on the criminal elements involved in the country's "drug war," much of the problem comes from internal corruption. As a March report on the issue published in the Journal of Energy Security notes, "on some levels Pemex is not just a victim of oil-thieving DTOs [drug trafficking organizations]; sometimes, it’s directly involved." This was illustrated in February 2010, when the army seized 4 tons of marijuana at a Pemex facility in the northern state of Tamaulipas.