Pipeline theft in Mexico rose 52% in 2015, according to an Associated Press report.
The spike came after a 43.7% annual increase in 2014, according to a sustainability report by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company.
And while the northeast section of the country — the site of competition between the vicious Zetas and Gulf cartels — was believed to have the most theft, research by El Daily Post indicates that pipelines in central Mexico saw even more theft in recent years.
“Clearly, both Pemex and the federal government need to keep up the efforts to mitigate the infrastructure’s vulnerability and strengthen the security forces’ capabilities,” El Daily Post’s Dwight Dyer writes.
Data on oil losses given to El Daily Post by the Mexican government earlier this year revealed that a pipeline running through Zetas territory had lost 3.86 million barrels of oil between 2009 and 2015. Circumstantial evidence suggests that much of the oil was likely lost to criminal activity.
Documents released by the Mexican government in early 2014 revealed that oil theft affected every Mexican state, with Los Zetas territory in Tamaulipas and Veracruz states experiencing the most rapid growth.
In Tamaulipas state, in northeast Mexico close to Gulf of Mexico oil production, authorities “found that a cell of the deadly Zetas gang was organising oil robbery and transporting the crude into Texas,” journalist Ioan Grillo reported in 2011.
A new batch of data given to El Daily Post by the government, however, shows that over the same period losses at a pipeline running from a refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato, to a storage facility in Guadalajara reached 5.6 million barrels — 45% more than what was lost at the pipeline cutting through Zetas territory, says Dyer.
Losses from the Salamanca-Guadalajara pipeline were steady from 2009 to 2011, Dyer notes, before rising significantly between 2011 and 2014. After 2014 losses dropped off considerably, but remained well above losses incurred prior to 2009.
Theft in the Salamanca-Guadalajara corridor is also driven by organised crime, Dyer notes, but the two main culprits — the Knights Templar cartel and the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel — didn’t expand into the area until after 2012. Carjacking, extortion, and gang-related killing also started rising after that point.
The losses from the Salamanca-Guadalajara pipeline were likely in large part caused by the Knights Templar cartel, which, according to Dyer, “perfected Los Zetas’ business model.”
Oil theft soared during the first three years of current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, 2012 to 2015, amounting to 4.6 million barrels, much more than the 1 million barrels total stolen during the final four years of his predecessor’s term.
And while theft levels have declined, they haven’t fallen to levels seen prior to Peña Nieto’s election.
“They can [arrest] a few [of us], but there will always be others,” a member of Los Zetas cartel told Vice in 2014. “As long as they move gas through tubes, this is going to continue.”
While the Mexican government has recently increased jail terms for convicted oil thieves, observers have argued that harsher penalties are unlikely to deter thieves as long as they have little expectation of getting caught.
Moreover, fragmentation of Mexico’s powerful criminal groups has left behind many smaller groups that don’t have the wherewithal to pursue international drug trafficking. As a result, Insight Crime notes, those groups have turned to domestic activities, oil theft being one of the most lucrative.