A recent report suggests Mexico's state oil company lost at least $1.5 billion to fuel theft last year, a figure that underscores the massive and growing scale of this criminal activity.
The estimate that $1.5 billion worth of fuel was stolen last year derives from calculations made by Animal Político based on data obtained through freedom of information requests.
According to the news outlet, the state oil company Petróleos Mexicanos, better known as Pemex, lost more than 2.2 billion liters (roughly 600 million gallons) of fuel to theft last year. That figure represents the largest annual total of stolen fuel recorded since 2009.
In all, Animal Político estimates that thieves have stolen more than 14.6 billion liters (roughly 3.9 billion gallons) of fuel -- worth about $7.8 billion -- since 2009. However, the media outlet notes that the actual value of the stolen fuel could be even higher, since its figures are calculated using the fuel's minimum average price in the year it was stolen.
The data compiled by Animal Político shows that fuel theft has increased in recent years. Just under 7 billion liters (about 1.8 billion gallons) were stolen between 2009 and 2012, while more than 7.6 billion liters (some 2 billion gallons) have been stolen since 2012 -- an increase of about 10 percent.
As global fuel prices rose, so too did the value of contraband fuel. The fuel stolen between 2009 and 2012 was worth about $3 billion, while the fuel stolen since 2012 was worth about $4.7 billion.
InSight Crime Analysis
Fuel theft in Mexico not only diverts substantial resources from public coffers, it also has negative impacts on the environment and citizen security. Many crime groups diversify their criminal portfolio by engaging in fuel theft, which is considered to be a relatively low-risk, high-reward revenue stream.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Oil Theft
Mexico has struggled for years to reign in the problem of fuel theft, but a number of factors have complicated these efforts. For one, a number of Pemex workers have been accused of cooperating with fuel theft schemes, making it more difficult for authorities to detect and stop these crimes.
Additionally, although stricter laws against stealing fuel were approved last year, relatively few fuel theft cases actually result in convictions. The high rates of impunity for fuel theft make this criminal activity attractive to enterprising criminals.
Another, often-overlooked, aspect of the stolen fuel trade is the demand side. There clearly exists a large market for stolen fuel -- one that involves not only criminals, but also otherwise legitimate companies.
In the past several years, Pemex has sued nearly two dozen US companies for allegedly buying and distributing some $300 million worth of fuel stolen from the Mexican state oil firm. However, Pemex's legal actions were generally unsuccessful, since US judges ruled that in various cases the company had not presented enough evidence to support its claims, or that the defendants did not have the ability to pay damages.