Petroleum thieves set a new record for pipeline taps

All sorts of weird and wonderful records are broken on a regular basis in Mexico — with Guinness records to prove it — but while many are a source of pride, others are not so brag-worthy.

A new record of the latter variety has been set by petroleum pipeline thieves known as huachicoleros, who between January and September made the highest number of illegal pipeline taps ever recorded.

According to data provided by state oil company Pemex and made available on the federal government’s transparency website, 7,642 new taps were detected in the nine-month period.

With 17,000 kilometers of pipelines across the country, that means on average thieves have illegally extracted fuel at points every 2.22 kilometers across the entire network. Put in other terms, the figure equates to just under 28 new, illegal pipeline perforations per day.

The 2017 figure is 769 higher than the previous high, which was recorded in the same period last year, and exceeds the entire total for 2016.

Pipeline theft has become so common in some parts of the country, such as the region of Puebla known as the Red Triangle, that a culture has formed around it complete with its own religious icons and music inspired by the practice.

Despite assurances from the federal government that the prevalence of the crime would start to go down, the statistics show otherwise.

As recently as last month Pemex CEO José Antonio González Anaya told lawmakers that fuel theft had been reduced by a joint strategy implemented by the Secretariat of Finance and the Attorney General’s office (PGR) and 1,400 people had been arrested for the crime.

Eleven million liters of stolen fuel were recovered in the nine-month period, he said, up significantly from a total of 4 million recovered in 2016.

But despite that gain, the number of taps actually increased month by month in the most recently completed quarter, rising from 728 in July to 925 in August before peaking in September at 928.

For the entire nine-month period, Guanajuato recorded the highest number with 1,393 clandestine taps detected followed by Puebla with 1,092. The next worst locations were Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Hidalgo, México state and Jalisco.

Together, the seven states account for almost 80% of all illegal taps in the country.

The practice has risen sharply in recent years and has cost Pemex an estimated 160 billion pesos (US $8.35 billion at today’s exchange rate) over the past seven years. The crime has reportedly become the second most lucrative activity for drug cartels.

In addition, evidence emerged last month that petroleum was also being stolen from within the company and Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquín Coldwell has raised the possibility that there may be complicity between Pemex employees and huachicoleros.

The practice has also led to violent clashes both between pipeline thieves and authorities and among rival gangs.

Ten people died including four soldiers when the army clashed with presumed pipeline thieves in Puebla in May while a confrontation between feuding huachicoleros left a further nine dead in Puebla in early July.

Source: El Universal (sp)