HomeNewsBriefStopping Oil Theft in Mexico Futile Game of Whac-a-Mole

A rise in the number oil thefts this year in Mexico has provided further evidence that this high-profile criminal economy may be too massive for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's to fully deal with.

Between January and May, Mexico saw 6,621 instances of oil theft nationwide, according to new data from state oil company, Pemex. This marked a slight 1.6 percent rise, or 91 more thefts than the 6,530 registered over the same period in 2018.

In the first five months of the year, the states with the most illegal taps of oil pipelines were Hidalgo with 2,170 thefts, followed by the State of Mexico (923), Puebla (677), Tamaulipas (673), and Guanajuato (629).

The quantities of gasoline stolen, however, are vastly lower than during the first five months of 2018, with Pemex estimating the total volume has dropped by as much as 93 percent.

The report also showed that focusing on eradicating oil theft in one particular area may have little overall impact since thefts will spike somewhere else.

A large part of the Mexican campaign against oil theft has been focused on the state of Guanajuato, particularly against the Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, who are experts in this criminal economy.

SEE ALSO: Early Gains Cloud Need for Long-Term Approach for Mexico's Oil Thieves

While this campaign has brought the amount of oil thefts down by 17 percent this year in Guanajuato, thefts spiked by 182 percent in Hidalgo.

And for certain states where oil theft was a rare occurrence, numbers have jumped, with Chiapas going from two thefts in early 2018 to 14 this year.

InSight Crime Analysis

In one important dynamic, President López Obrador is correct: The amount of gasoline pilfered from Mexico's pipelines has plummeted since he took office. A militarized presence around refineries, targeting specialized criminal groups and choosing to move some oil supplies with tanker trucks have helped.

But at what cost?

The ongoing war against the Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima in Guanajuato has allegedly led to the arrests of around 50 percent of the group's members. But this has only worsened a spiral of violence that has led the murder rate in Guanajuato -- an important industrial and tourism state -- to climb by 400 percent in four years.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Oil Theft

The Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, arguably Mexico's most prominent criminal group dedicated to oil theft, may soon be brought down. It lacks the size and criminal diversity of its larger rivals.

However, as Pemex's report shows, this prolonged campaign by the government against oil thieves lacks staying power. While it is a steady means of profit for criminal groups, tapping into a pipeline is also an opportunity for poorer communities to stock up on gasoline.

The Hidalgo pipeline explosion last January, which left 137 people dead, happened after hundreds of local residents descended on the site.

The Pemex figures show just how oil theft will survive and spread, popping up in new areas when existing accesses are closed. Stopping criminal groups is one thing. Addressing the socio-economic conditions that lead thousands of ordinary Mexicans to resort to oil theft across the country is quite another.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 13 JAN 2015

Precipitous drops in worldwide petroleum prices, which have reached 6-year historic lows, might affect the profitability of oil theft which…

JALISCO CARTEL / 8 FEB 2016

"Narco-banners" hung around Michoacán have announced the arrival of a new criminal organization in a sign the underworld in the…

HUMAN SMUGGLING / 29 NOV 2017

A new report says that human smugglers in Mexico are turning to cargo trucks and less traveled routes…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…