HomeNewsHigh Gas Prices Make Fuel Theft Profitable in Mexico

High Gas Prices Make Fuel Theft Profitable in Mexico


Mexico is seeing a rapid spike in oil theft across much of the country, with observers divided as to whether high gas prices have led to more robberies, or vice versa.

On May 23, Defense Minister Luis Crescencio Sandoval announced at the government’s monthly security briefing that oil theft had increased from 5.1 million barrels in January to 7.5 million barrels in April.

On the same day, a report by La Razón highlighted the scale of the crisis with the western state of Jalisco seeing a staggering 944 percent rise in cases of oil theft between January-March 2021 to 2022. These increases seem highly focused on northern Mexico since the border state of Sonora saw oil theft grow by 140 percent, followed by Durango on 100 percent and Nuevo León by 87.8 percent.

Earlier this month, industry experts told Mexican media Publimetro that this rise was in part due to more attacks on gas tankers alongside the traditional taps of oil pipelines. Registered attacks on tanker trucks rose from 125 in the first quarter of 2021 to 412 in the same period of 2022.

According to the report, criminal groups have set up checkpoints and blockades across several states in Mexico to systematically rob trucks, causing logistical problems for the state-owned petroleum company, Pemex. Some gas stations have been forced to close their pumps after running out of fuel, causing long lines at those petrol pumps that still had reserves.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Oil Theft

However, the tapping of pipelines remains a real concern. In early May, Cresencio Sandoval announced that in Puebla – a central state through which several major oil pipelines pass – security forces had recovered 2.3 million liters of stolen fuel and arrested 217 alleged perpetrators. Over 6,000 instances of pipeline tapping had been discovered in Puebla in the last three years, he added.

In the first quarter of 2022, there were 3,199 reports of pipeline siphoning, representing a 14 percent year-on-year increase, according to Milenio.

This increased criminal focus on oil theft has come amid soaring gas prices. In early March, a gallon of premium gasoline sold for nearly $5.65 in Mexico City, up from an average of $3.97 four months earlier.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Pipeline tapping and fuel truck robberies have been linked with heightened gas prices and fuel shortages in the past. In 2019, the Mexican government restricted moving oil through the national pipeline system to stem the illegal taps, causing massive shortages in Mexico's western states, particularly in Jalisco.

While oil theft has been a criminal economy of choice for years in Mexico, a hike in oil prices has incentivized the black market for gasoline more than ever.

In 2022, inflation and the Russian-Ukrainian war have raised international oil prices globally. Despite government subsidies that make gas affordable to most Mexicans, companies have run into problems with supply, reported Publimetro. In the northern regions of Mexico, shortages were exacerbated by the influx of Americans crossing the border in search of cheaper gas prices.

All of this has provided criminals with the perfect reason to redouble their oil theft efforts. The Latin America Risk Report points out that criminal groups are not only incentivized to exploit higher prices through theft and contraband sales but also extort energy companies who are reaping the profits of higher prices.

Indeed, it could be suggested that the potential for huge profits on stolen gas during times of scarcity or high price have directly led to the creation of criminal elements in Mexico, which have gone on to do untold damage to the country.

Investigative journalist Daniel Blancas told Aristegui Noticias that the 2017 "gasolinazo" crisis, caused by the greatest hike in gas prices in 20 years, was responsible for an explosion of pipeline tapping. One of the most notorious groups associated with oil theft is the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel. Its operations centered around huachicol, and brought in estimated profits of $800,000-$1.2 million a day at the height of their operations in 2018. Guanajuato, the state where the cartel is based, now ranks among Mexico's most dangerous.

According to a recent report from the International Crisis Group, fuel theft started to spike in 2010 as the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel entered the illicit economy.

More recently, criminal groups have continued to target insecure oil and gas infrastructure, drilling sophisticated tunnels to access pipelines and ramping up their use of technology to avoid detection.

SEE ALSO: The Impressive Tunnelling Skills of Mexico's Gas Thieves

In 2020, huachicoleo was so rampant that Roberto Diaz de Leon, president of national fuel retailers association, ONEXPO, referred to fuel thieves as the main competitors of gas station owners. “In this country, there is an illegal parallel network of fuel supply and distribution whose presence and influence is quite strong,” he told Mexico Business News in an interview.

Cachimbas, unregulated roadside stops where motorists can fill their tanks illegally, are the most common way criminal groups resell their siphoned fuel. According to Diaz de Leon, there are at least four cachimbas for every one of Mexico's 13,000 legal gas stations.

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.


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.


Related Content

MEXICO / 11 NOV 2010

After a gang of masked gunmen burst into a rehabilitation center in Tijuana and methodically assassinated 13 patients, El Universal…

FARC / 1 NOV 2010

In an interview with CNN in Spanish, Peruvian President Alan Garcia said he was very troubled by Mexican cartel presence…

BARRIO 18 / 2 JAN 2017

Welcome to InSight Crime's GameChangers 2016, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas. This…

About InSight Crime


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…


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,…


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…


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.


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…