Illegal taps on state-owned pipelines transporting liquefied petroleum gas increased 43.7% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period of last year, official data shows.
There were 687 cases of LP gas theft between January and March, up from 478 in the first quarter of 2020.
Almost four of every five illegal taps – 78% – occurred in Puebla, which is also a hotspot for the theft of gasoline. Detected cases of gas theft in the state increased 45.1% to 537 from 370 in the first quarter of 2020.
The national epicenter of the crime is the Puebla municipality of Tepeaca, where 188 cases – 27.3% of the total – were detected between January and March.
An unnamed security official with Pemex explained some of the modus operandi of LP gas thieves in an interview with the newspaper Reforma.
“The theft of LP gas from pipelines is more sophisticated than the theft of fuel [gasoline]. It requires more precision in the installation of the illegal tap and it’s often carried out [by people] with knowledge of the system,” he said.
“… The connections … placed on the pipeline go directly to a tanker truck, [the LP gas] is not collected in a gas tank,” the Pemex official explained.
He said that security operations have detected lines of tanker trucks waiting to be filled with illegally extracted gas.
“We’ve found up to six tanker trucks near a [pipeline] tap; these tanker trucks have the markings of well-known brands, but they’re fake, … they’re filled mainly at night,” the security superintendent said.
The official said that illegal taps are often made on pipelines that run through farmland, adding that the process to extract gas can cause major leaks.
The danger of illegally extracting extremely flammable substances such as gasoline and gas from pipelines is perhaps best exemplified by an explosion in January 2019 of a petroleum pipeline in Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo, that had been tapped by thieves. More than 130 people who had flocked to the site to fill containers with gasoline spurting out of the pipeline were killed in the blast.
The Pemex official said that much of the LP gas stolen in Puebla is sold directly to communities in the same state. Thieves threaten legal gas distributors to muscle in on their market, he said.
He also said that thieves in Puebla sell stolen LP gas to companies that distribute the product in states such as Puebla, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo and México state.
“It also goes to Mexico City, Querétaro, or other parts of the center of the country,” the official said. “It’s big business for [organized] crime and they’re not being stopped due to a lot of factors, a lot of them political.”
The increase in illegal LP gas pipeline taps in the first quarter of the year came after a 77.5% surge in cases of theft last year. There were more than 23,000 illegal taps in 2020, generating an economic loss of almost 30.2 billion pesos (US $1.5 billion).
Source: Reforma (sp)