Fuel theft in Mexico: Who is to blame?

According to EnergeA, drug cartels, PEMEX workers, and businessmen are all colluding in fuel theft

Fuel theft in Mexico: Who is to blame?
The Gulf Cartel stores stolen fuel in their camps, while small criminal gangs do so in private residences and dens along federal highways - Photo: Edwin Hernández/EL UNIVERSAL
English 25/09/2018 13:57 Noé Cruz Serrano Mexico City Actualizada 14:02
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With regard to fuel theft, Mexican Petroleums (PEMEX) has been overwhelmed by drug cartels, specialized groups, criminal gangs, communities near oil pipelines, specialized gas station owners, businesspeople buying stolen fuel, employees, and former PEMEX workers, as well as authorities responsible for public safety.

According to the EnergeA company, which handles energy projects for the Atalaya Group and was hired by the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) to conduct a study that would allow them to assess the issue of the hydrocarbons sector’s security regarding their facilities’ integrity, at least eight active players are now known to be involved in fuel theft activities threatening PEMEX.

The field research delivered to the CRE on May last year quoted information provided by the Office of Foreign Assets Control from the Department of Treasury in the United States, which identified a network of petrol station workers linked to Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, also known as El Azul, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The study shows that the members of this cartel are associated to clandestine fuel and diesel extraction from the Culiacán-Topolobampo pipeline.

Mario Alejandro Aponte Gómez, a.k.a. El Bravo, chief of security for druglord El Chapo Guzmán, used to handle illicit hydrocarbons extractions in said entity before his death on April, 2016.

The stolen fuel is usually stored in private residences, grocery stores, and businesses where farming products are sold.

In Altamira, Tamaulipas, members of the Gulf Cartel are involved in illegal extractions at the Madero-Cadereyta pipeline, though local criminal gangs are also involved in illegal tapping of PEMEX pipelines.

The Gulf Cartel stores stolen fuel in their camps, while small criminal gangs do so in private residences and dens along federal highways.

There is evidence that the stolen product is now being sold to companies and industries of the informal sector along highways and small villages.

In the Silao-Irapuato-Salamanca region, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is tapping fuel from the Salamanca-Guadalajara pipeline while armed groups that specialize in hydrocarbons theft are also conducting illegal tappings.

It has been said that PEMEX workers in said region are collaborating directly with fuel thieves.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is known to use haciendas and ranches to store stolen fuel, and it is thought that the criminal group is distributing it at service stations while extorting petrol station workers. The fuel is kept in tanks through which the drug cartel dispenses it in workshops and junkyards located on the highways of Guanajuato.

In the regions of Acajete, Tepeaca, Acatzingo, Quecholac, and Palmar de Bravo, in Puebla, the Zetas cartel is responsible for fuel tappings in PEMEX pipelines, and is currently competing with other criminal gangs to control the fuel market.

The study shows that the Zetas have been storing the fuel in stolen waterpipes. Once the vehicles are dismantled, the tank deposits are buried for the fuel’s safekeeping.

In this case, the cartel has chosen very specific sales points at which the fuel can only be acquired through an invitation and by presenting a secret password. They also provide a delivery service on demand and always upon recommendation from a third party.

At the Reynosa-Río Bravo region, the Gulf Cartel taps fuel from PEMEX’s pipeline networks and steals pipes randomly to use as storage places for the stolen fuel.

Investigations surrounding the operations of the Gulf cartel allowed experts to discover that the criminal group is currently exporting stolen crude oil to the United States, where it undergoes a refinement process and is later sold to companies from the state of Texas. PEMEX has sued 23 American companies for buying hydrocarbons that were previously stolen from them, including Big Star Gathering, F&M Transportation, Western Refining Company, Joplin Energy, and Superior Crude Gathering, among others.

The Zetas are also present in the Huimanguillo-Cárdenas, Tabasco, and Tala-Tlajomulco regions in the state of Jalisco, which is currently the domain of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

In the conclusion of the Study to Analyze the Issue of Physical Security at the Facilities of the Hydrocarbons Sector and Issue Recommendations for Security Cost Recognition that the CRE Undertakes in their Tariffs Review Processes, which cost 5.1 million pesos, EnergeA Energy Projects claimed that fuel theft was a complex phenomenon that is often simplified by only taking into account the number of illegal taps.

The more specialized groups, which have the technical knowledge and tools necessary to conduct the illegal tapping, are working with armed criminal cells which take care of the surveillance, tapping, custody, and transport of fuels through pipes or tanks.

These criminal gangs are rudimentary groups that conduct the hydrocarbons extraction with blunt objects such as saws, hammers, and chisels. Most of the leakage and fires have been caused for a lack of technical skill. These groups usually transport the stolen product in plastic containers mounted in simple pick-up trucks or yokes.

Local communities surrounding the pipelines are also involved. When detecting a fuel leak, they take advantage of the situation to steal some of the hydrocarbon with gourds, buckets, and vases, though they do not intend to deliberately violate PEMEX’s infrastructure.

Investigations have also pointed to the participation of PEMEX employees and former employees, who provide the necessary information for drug cartels and criminal groups to learn about the operations, location and logistics of their facilities, as well as the activity of the state-owned company.

Another link in the so-called “Huachicoleo” network are the petrol station workers that buy and sell stolen fuel for profit.

There are also businessmen and private industry owners who buy stolen fuel for their production.

Public safety authorities are also said to be involved by allowing, colluding, and covering for criminal actors in the illegal tapping of hydrocarbons.


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