Fuel thieves in Mexico may have developed sophisticated methods to steal LPG
Thieves are building and operating illegal LPG transport trucks that steal the fuel from terminals — and even pipelines — to sell to customers such as small LPG-fueled public passenger bus services, Octavio Perez, executive president of LPG distribution industry group Amexgas, told Argus.
Thieves have been known to steal loaded distribution trucks, but there is some evidence that criminals with advanced engineering knowledge are also taking LPG directly from pipelines, other distribution firm sources with knowledge of private security surveillance operations told Argus.
But extracting LPG from a pipeline is much more complicated than taking gasoline or diesel. Thieves would have to carefully monitor the pipeline temperature, use special machinery to tap the pipeline, place valves to prevent too much gas from escaping into the air and later weld the opening shut. The LPG would be passed from the pipeline to a distribution truck through pressurized hoses.
Unlike gasoline, LPG only remains in its liquid form if stored under pressure, so it cannot be stored in common containers. This also indicates that engineers or other skilled professionals are taking part in the theft, Salazar said.
The problem is focused in the states of Tlaxcala, Veracruz and Puebla, known as the "red triangle" for fuel theft. When Pemex closed a gasoline pipeline in the region that was tapped regularly by thieves, they adapted and began to take LPG from another line, Perez said.
"What really worries us is the speed at which these thefts are growing," he said. Just 5pc of the LPG market volumes in those three states were stolen last year, but this year is has grown to 15pc of the market, or roughly 2,285 t/month (883 b/d).
The thefts are costing Pemex and the industry as a whole over Ps40mn/month ($1.94mn/month) based on wholesale prices just in those three states, Perez said. Based on the energy regulator's (CRE) reports on average retail prices to final consumers in May of Ps18,320/t ($902/t), the losses from theft could be closer to Ps41.8mn ($2.03mn/month).
Mexico's LPG demand reached 309,000 b/d in March as the country uses mainly LPG for residential cooking and water heating.
Mexican authorities have said rampant fuel theft costs Pemex about $1.6bn/year by way of more than 1,000 pipeline taps every month — including 1,485 in April and more than 10,000 in all of 2017. Most of the thefts are of gasoline or diesel, but officials say LPG is also among those taps.