On June 15, the National Organization of Petroleum Retailers (Onexpo) filed a complaint with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, alleging that criminal groups are forcing gas station owners to sell fuel stolen from the pipelines of state oil company Pemex.
Gas vendors have reportedly faced threats in many states where criminal groups are most active, including Coahuila, Veracruz, Nuevo Leon, and Michoacan. According to Onexpo, one of the states most affected is Zacatecas, better known for its mining industry.
InSight Crime Analysis
In recent years, Pemex has struggled with rising fuel theft. In 2011, nearly three million barrels of petroleum, valued at roughly $475 million, were stolen from Pemex. The thefts were an increase of 52 percent from the previous year.
Much of the increased theft has been blamed on organized crime. Pemex has filed multiple lawsuits against foreign oil companies like Royal Dutch Shell for buying fuel stolen by Mexican cartels. The Zetas in particular are believed to have become increasingly involved in fuel theft, as highlighted by the recent discovery of over 1.5 million liters of stolen oil in Veracruz, a Zetas stronghold.
Most of the prominent cases of fuel theft in Mexico have involved the sale of stolen fuel to local and US refineries, or other bulk users of gas in Mexico. The sale of stolen fuel in ordinary gas stations is a newer phenomenon. While Onexpo's allegations apparently suggests that criminal groups have become more aggressive in forcing service stations to buy stolen wares, it is also possible that the business association filed the complaint in part to protect vendors from accusations of knowingly buying illegal fuel.
Either way, Onexpo's complaint does suggest the thieves are increasingly using local gas stations in Mexico as a primary distributor for their stolen product. This means not only will Pemex have to increase their monitoring of the oil pipelines targeted by thieves, but the company may also have to expand their audits of stations across Mexico.