Pipeline theft continues to grow unabated, statistics show, despite efforts to combat the crime, increased clashes with authorities and even infighting between the thieves themselves, known as huachicoleros.
In the first five months of 2017 Pemex detected 4,268 illegal taps on its pipelines, the highest number recorded for that period of time since the state-owned company made such information public in 2007.
The figure is almost double the number detected in the same period in 2016 and represents the detection of an average of 28.3 new clandestine taps per day.
A total of 6,873 were detected last year, a historical high, but if this year’s trend continues that record will easily be surpassed.
The states with the highest incidence are Guanajuato, Puebla, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Estado de México, Hidalgo and Jalisco.
The practice is so widespread and ingrained in certain parts of the country, such as the region known as the Red Triangle in Puebla, that a culture has formed around it.
At the Oil and Gas Innovation forum 2017 held Thursday in Mexico City, Pemex chief José Antonio González Anaya said fuel theft costs Mexico 20 billion pesos (US $1.1 billion) annually and it is reportedly the second most lucrative activity for drug cartels.
The problem has grown exponentially in recent years and has cost the state an estimated 160 billion pesos since 2010.
González argued that authorities have an obligation to do “everything possible and use all means to combat” the problem.
He denied that Pemex and the petroleum union were complicit in the practice at an organizational level although he didn’t rule out the possibility that Pemex workers were implicated.
“That doesn’t mean that there are not Pemex people . . . unionized or non-unionized employees, involved in this, and if something is found we will proceed against them to the full extent of the law.”
He said the company is currently focused on combating the demand side of the supply chain and is using all the means within its reach to combat the problem.
However, he conceded that there was no silver bullet.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s not a question of days or weeks and I dare say not even a question of a few months. It’s going to be several months during which little by little, we are going to start seeing [the incidence] come down.”
Violence related to the crime is also on the rise.
A confrontation between feuding huachicoleros left nine people dead in the Puebla municipality of Huehuetlán El Grande Sunday night while a clash in May between federal security forces and suspected pipeline thieves resulted in 10 fatalities.
Authorities also suspected that a violent attack in May that left a two-year-old dead might have been linked to pipeline theft.
Source: El Universal (sp)