Illegal taps on fuel pipelines increased by 45% in the first 10 months of 2018, according to the state oil company, and the total number of perforations is on track to exceed 15,000 this year.
Pemex’s most recent report on the crime showed that there were 12,581 taps detected on state-owned and private pipelines between January and October compared to 8,664 in the same period last year.
More than half the taps occurred in just four states — Puebla, Hidalgo, Guanajuato and Veracruz.
Puebla recorded the highest number, with 1,815, followed by Hidalgo with 1,726; Guanajuato with 1,547; and Veracruz with 1,338.
More than 1,000 illegal taps were also recorded in the first 10 months of the year in each of México state, Jalisco and Tamaulipas.
On average, 41 new illegal taps were discovered every day between January 1 and October 31.
Former Pemex CEO Carlos Treviño said in October that the crime, committed by gangs of fuel thieves known as huachicoleros, was expected to cost the state oil company 35 billion pesos (US $1.75 billion) this year.
Between 2013, the first full year of the previous government, and October 2018, Pemex reported 41,316 illegal taps, an unprecedented figure for a six-year presidential term.
During Vicente Fox’s presidency from 2000 to 2006, just 890 taps were reported, while during the six-year term of his successor Felipe Calderón, there were 4,865.
The incidence of the crime has continued to rise in recent years despite greater efforts to combat it, including operations involving the army and greater vigilance of pipelines.
In some parts of the country, such as the region of Puebla known as the Red Triangle, pipeline theft is such a common practice that a culture, with its own saint and songs, has formed around it.
The crime is also linked to rising rates of violence in some states, such as Guanajuato, which has been transformed from a relatively peaceful state to one of the most violent in the country this year.
In Puebla, a clash between the army and huachicoleros last year left 10 people dead, including four soldiers.
The new government has pledged to prioritize combatting pipeline theft, a crime that Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo singled out earlier this month as a key contributing factor to the high levels of violence in Mexico.
President López Obrador said this month that his government will legislate to make pipeline theft a “serious crime.”
People arrested for it will no longer be able to be released from custody on bail, he said.