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Dark world of oil theft and fraud

Oil theft and fraud affects everybody — not just those in far-away nations — because it enables everything from terrorist attacks to human trafficking. The author outlines thieves’ techniques and what countries are doing to battle this multibillion-dollar scourge.

It starts with the donkeys. Unaccompanied once they reach a border, they carry their loads of oil from Algeria to Morocco and Tunisia and return with empty containers. They make their journey twice a day — every day — to power an estimated 660,000 cars on illegal fuel.1

According to a report presented by the Nigeria Natural Resource Charter (NNRC), Nigeria lost about $4.4 billion in 2016 and $2.8 billion in 2017 to crude oil theft. This translates to a loss of about $8.9 million daily and a combined loss of $7.2 billion over the two-year period.2

In Mexico, fuel thieves drilled 2,274 illegal taps in the company’s pipelines during the first two months of 2018 — 38% more than during the same period in 2017 and 352% more than were discovered in the first two months of 2014.3

Ernst and Young estimates that thieves steal, adulterate or defraud about $133 billion worth of fuels from legitimate oil and gas enterprises.4 The Eurocontrol Technics Group noted that these numbers are likely to be understated because of corruption, government involvement and the nature of the crime, which is hard to detect.5

Oil theft is a widespread problem that harms countries around the world. The scale of the issue, however, remains widely unknown. When we hear about oil theft, we tend to think about Nigeria or Mexico, but it goes far beyond these countries.

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