Illegal pipeline tapping in Mexico

Fuel theft from Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, reportedly almost doubled over a one-year period, an indication of how much the country's criminal groups continue to profit from this activity. 

According to Pemex’s Sustainability Report 2014 (pdf), released on November 11, 2015, the number of illegal pipeline taps rose to 4,125 in 2014, a 43.7 percent increase from the previous year.

Most incidents of oil pipeline tapping were registered in the states of Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Sinaloa and Jalisco, as El Universal reported. These four states registered 2,043 incidents of fuel theft in 2014. 

According to Pemex’s annual report, Tamaulipas was considered the "most vulnerable" region to fuel theft. The 200 Pemex pipelines in this state registered 641 illegal tappings last year, 16 percent of the national total.  

In total, over 7 million liters of gasoline were stolen from Pemex over a 19-month period, according to figures from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, El Universal reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

Fuel theft has long been a reliable and lucrative business for Mexico's criminal groups -- especially the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel -- contributing to their financial gains and threatening the national oil industry.

Last year, Pemex estimated that they had lost approximately 7.5 million barrels of fuel, valued at more than $1 billion at the time, to such theft. The number of illegal tappings has grown markedly in recent years, rising from 691 reported incidents in 2010.

Illegal Pipeline Tappings 2010-2014, courtesy of El Universal

 

Graphic by El Universal

 

Due to the fragmentation of Mexico's criminal groups, many smaller factions lack the transnational connections needed to smuggle drugs northwards. Thus, various criminal factions -- especially those of the Zetas -- have turned to more local criminal activities to support themselves economically. This includes kidnapping, extortion, and oil theft. To some degree, the continued increase of oil theft from Pemex is partly a reflection of Mexico's new criminal reality: one in which there are dozens of large and small criminal groups competing for profits. 

SEE ALSO:  Mexico News and Profiles

Pemex has taken novel steps in attempts to confront fuel theft. In February 2015, the company announced that it would stop transporting fully refined fuel, which would make it more difficult to sell on the black market if stolen. By the end of 2016, the company should be able to assess whether this approach was effective or not, depending on fuel theft statistics for that year.