Vertical Markets

Fuel theft

by Mark Rowe

At the end of June 2022, the RAC reported average UK pump prices of 199 pence for diesel, and 191 pence for petrol, approaching double the price of two years earlier.

“Opportunity makes a thief”, wrote Francis Bacon in 1598, and today thieves are responding to the opportunity to make large amounts of money by syphoning and otherwise stealing fuel. Industries from station forecourts to hauliers are reporting a spike in fuel theft but the issue is widespread across any sector using fuel in vehicles or machinery, including logistics, distribution, agriculture and construction.

Red diesel

The construction sector in particular faces an additional headache: the Government recently forbade the industry from using low duty red diesel, meaning vehicles and machinery must all now switch to expensive white diesel, just as that fuel gets even more expensive. Already police in Wales and Construction Watch Scotland are reporting a rise in fuel theft from construction sites, and the pattern is bound to be UK-wide.

Doug Skins of the police security initiative Secured by Design, recently said, “Thieves target domestic heating oil, as well as diesel from remote national infrastructure sites, farms, yards and construction sites, where fuel is stored”. The Secured by Design website adds the following: “Static above-ground fuel tanks and mobile bowsers are most at risk of fuel theft…techniques include syphoning the fuel into a plastic container or using a fuel transfer pump to steal from larger bulk vehicles, or in the case of bowsers, driving off with them when they are out on site. In addition to causing damage to the tanks themselves by smashing the supply pipes, valves or puncturing the tank, these thieves often create environmental issues when the remaining fuel leaks into the ground, resulting in high clean-up costs.”

How your clients can combat fuel theft

One important tip is to track fuel usage, so it’s immediately clear if something is wrong, and what’s been lost. Unsurprisingly, sites are at most risk overnight, but daytime thefts happen too, so, as well as a perimeter barrier, it’s important to control who can get into the location by having an access control system or a human presence at the gates. Also, at the end of each day when locking up we suggest that electric pumps should be disconnected from their power supply.

Safe Site Facilities recommend that tanks, at-risk vehicles and plant machinery are stationed away from perimeter barriers and, if possible, placed in a well-lit, visible place. Consider a second layer of lockable security fencing around the fuel store. Increasingly, thieves don’t sneak in on foot; they drive in with their own tank and take everything, so it’s important that perimeter security measures don’t just wave vans and such through ‘on the nod’, assuming them to be legitimate. If it’s practical given your clients’ activity patterns, traffic management barriers might help.

Most thefts do take place when no-one’s there, so the three core protection measures are: a strong perimeter barrier; a good alarm system; and monitored CCTV. Depending on light levels at the location, floodlighting may also help the security monitoring, as well as ensuring potential intruders feel generally exposed.

With anything mobile, your clients should consider moving it into an outbuilding for the night, and ensure that building is as secure as possible, with door and window screens. If fuel is being stored then the use of a fuel dye is an inexpensive way of making the re-sale of that fuel much more difficult. And, whatever security measures are being implemented, it’s important let the world know about them. With dye, for example, signage proclaiming its use can be a good deterrent.

Finally, if your client has been a victim of fuel theft, they might want to consider a human security presence, even if only temporarily. Successful thieves may wait a few days for the fuel to be replaced and then strike again, since they’ve worked out exactly how to deal with any existing security measures.

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