The number of illegal taps detected on fuel pipelines operated by Pemex increased by 51% last year, the state oil company reported yesterday.
Fuel thieves, known as huachicoleros, drilled a record 10,363 illegal taps that were discovered in 2017, up from 6,873 that were reported the previous year.
The rise in fuel theft comes despite increased vigilance and efforts by federal authorities to combat the crime.
Since 2014, the number of illegal taps has risen 182%, according to Pemex statistics.
Last year, the highest number of illegal taps were detected in March with 1,057, but more than 900 were also found in August, September and October, the report said.
Guanajuato was the worst affected state, reporting 1,852 perforations on its pipelines in 2017 followed by Puebla with 1,443 and Tamaulipas with 1,100. Veracruz and Hidalgo both reported more than 1,000 illegal taps.
The state of México was just behind with 971 taps detected and surprisingly even Mexico City featured in the statistics, with 91 illegal taps.
An energy sector analyst at the firm Caravia y Asociados believes that the current strategy employed by the federal government to combat the crime is clearly not working and instead suggested a change of tack.
“This is already a problem that affects the country and it is one of national security. The states and municipalities should request the intervention of the army with the new internal security law . . .” Ramsés Pech said.
The Mexican government estimated that pipeline theft cost Pemex about US $1 billion in lost revenue in 2016 but has not yet provided any estimate of last year’s losses.
A report last month by news agency Reuters said that Mexico’s notorious drug cartels have increasingly turned to fuel theft in their search for alternative revenue sources.
It also said that the increased prevalence of the practice is deterring foreign investment, undermining the energy reform implemented by the current federal administration.
Much of the stolen fuel is sold on the black market but it is also sold through established gas stations.
In a statement, Pemex said that authorities have shut down 70 stations that were selling stolen fuel to motorists.
More than 50 stations in Guanajuato alone are under investigation for selling fuel supplied by huachicoleros, the head of the Federal Police in the state said last week.
There is also evidence that petroleum theft has occurred within Pemex.
In October, the Secretariat of Public Administration started an investigation into a group of Pemex workers in Chihuahua who were allegedly stealing fuel.
Eight employees who worked at a Pemex storage terminal in the state capital were dismissed last month for their involvement in the internal fuel theft racket.