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Oilfield thieves target variety of valuables

March 20, 2024

Odessa American

by Bob Campbell

Oilfield thefts have become a pressing problem and the Permian Basin Petroleum, Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners and Texas Oil & Gas associations say it is a plague that requires a multi-faceted cure.

“Individual crimes of convenience where someone comes across a tool left out in the open or an unlocked, unmonitored vehicle are one thing,” said PBPA President Ben Shepperd. “However, what members of the oil and gas industry have been experiencing more recently in the field has been described as organized crime.

“Traditional targets of copper, tools or other heavy equipment that might be relatively easy to move are not the only targets. Full tanker truck loads of produced oil have been removed from private locations throughout the Permian Basin.”

Shepperd said loads of tubing and even an entire pumpjack, have also been stolen.

“These illegal activities require organization and communication before, during and after the commission of the crime by multiple involved parties,” he said. “When it comes to oil this type of theft also requires the knowledge of a willing end-buyer who doesn’t question the origins of the oil.”

Referring to the sheriffs’ multi-county FBI-backed Permian Basin Oilfield Theft Task Force, oil company security personnel and other officials, Shepperd said the PBPA is engaging with its members, local law enforcement, the FBI, local, state and federal elected officials and other stakeholders to find ways to leverage collaboration and information-sharing to support the needed response.

“The involved parties are using already existing tools and creating new tools to identify patterns and trends indicative of these crimes, which are tremendously helpful in identifying potential suspects,” he said. “Members of the effort are also working on both proactive and reactive trainings, tactics and recommended onsite procedures to help the proper authorities best allocate resources to combat this growing concern.

“This is far more than just a nuisance or a cost of doing business for the industry. It is a great concern not only to the victims but also to law enforcement, elected officials and the communities in which these illicit activities are occurring.”

TIPRO President Ed Longanecker said from Austin that oilfield theft is a significant challenge during boom-and-bust cycles with a loss of millions of dollars accumulating during some months in the Permian Basin alone.

Longanecker said the thieves like but are not limited to hydrocarbon laundering operations, pipe, copper, scrap metal and drilling and production equipment.

“Local law enforcement, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have long recognized the exploitation of oil and gas companies by criminal organizations,” he said. “A high level of collaboration has ensued over the years among law enforcement organizations and the FBI has a team working full-time to identify stolen oilfield equipment.

“The Texas Legislature has also sought to address this issue and provide more tools to dismantle these criminal enterprises. This includes passing Senate Bill 1871 during the 85th Legislative Session in 2017 to create a specific, targeted oil and gas theft statute with a steeper penalty ladder.”

Longanecker said the legislation focused on petroleum products, meaning crude oil, natural gas or condensate.

“TIPRO was pleased to support this bill, but clearly more tools and resources must be provided to address this persistent problem including material and equipment theft,” he said.

TXOGA President Todd Staples said oilfield theft has long been a serious issue across Texas with significant losses to producers on a yearly basis.

“Commonly targeted items include oil, pipe and construction materials as well as items like wire, batteries and generators which contain precious metals such as copper, aluminum, nickel, silver and gold,” Staples said from Austin “Thankfully SB 1871, introduced by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) was passed and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott to establish felony level penalties related to the theft of oil.”

In addition, Staples said, Texas has laws with severe penalties for the theft of precious metals.

“The passage of legislation to establish severe penalties for theft and increased employee training by producers to identify and prevent theft as well as increased collaboration with law enforcement authorities will help make a significant impact in discouraging oilfield theft,” he said.

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