Fuel theft explodes in Portugal

During the last weeks disturbing news have been showing the dark side of human nature in face of these new rough times: all across the state, from north to south, littoral to interior, gasoline and diesel theft is spreading like fire. The black market is thriving with people selling diesel and gasoline for 1 €/litre.
Right: A tank like this can hold up to 1000 litres of diesel, which at today's prices is worth arround 1400 €. Photo by Getty Images.

Crossposted at the European Tribune.

The word spreads by mouth that someone at some obscure place has gasoline or diesel to sell at prices not seen for years. A tempting offer, when these fuels are sold for 1.5 €/litre and 1.4 €/litre respectively at filling stations. But these fuels have simply been stolen from the same people buying them: the end consumer.

The first news started to come from the north, in the city of Braga, with regular thefts from parked lorries during the night. But now reports are coming from almost everywhere, from the big city centres to the isolated interior of Portugal.

The preferred targets are lorries with tanks large enough to hold 500 to 1000 litres of fuel. During the night thieves approach and force the tank open, then run in a small tube connected to a manual pump that moves the fuel to a hand held jerrycan or similar container. When the opening offers resistance the tank is simply pierced with a pickaxe or other sharp metal tool. In this case, after the jerrycans have been filled the fuel is simple left flowing on the ground.

Beyond lorries, even regular cars and heavy machinery are being targeted by this kind of theft. Construction sites are a tempting place, where heavy cranes and diggers are usually left unguarded during the night. Many businesses are installing surveillance and alarm systems, but without major results, thieves study the place carefully to avoid cameras and using a pickaxe a tank can be emptied swiftly.

Here's a digest of what a haulier business holder told to the Diário de Notícias newspaper:

On the 24th of June when the workmen arrived for a new day they found 3 lorries that have been filled up the last night with their tanks completely empty, having been pierced with a pickaxe. They didn't even take half of the diesel, with the remainder spilled on the ground. The company lost more than 4000 € that day from fuel theft in addition to the cost of repairing 3 fuel tanks.

One month later the smell of spilt diesel still engulfs the facility. Now the lorries are guarded during the night by a man with a licence to carry and use fire arms. On the fence a sign warns: be wary of pitbull dogs.

Many thoughts come to mind reading these news pieces. Like addicts, when the fix dwindles consumers are turning on each other. Before adjusting their lifestyles or finding new arrangements to their daily lives, some consumers seem to opt for the black market, buying fuel that might have been stolen from his neighbour yesterday or from himself the next day.

Life on the slippery slope of oil depletion will likely become much more violent than what we've been used to.

For reference, some of these news in the Portuguese press:

Diário de Notícias
Correio da Manhã

Luís de Sousa

Every time the price of gas spikes here in Houston, this also becomes a problem. The more organized groups go to a gas station and drain the storage tanks with a big truck. I expect these incidents will change from intermittent to widespread before too long.

A couple weeks ago in Portland OR, someone parked a pickup towing a tank-carrying trailer over the caps of a gas-station's storage tanks, drilled through to the tanks and removed several thousand dollars worth of gas. Local auto repair shops have also noticed more fuel tanks being drilled, especially in SUVs and high pickups (and, after all, that's where the gas is).

While it is to be expected, it is unfortunate that posts like this actually can give people ideas, as well as what to look out for i.e tragetting construction sites. Here in Australia there is another type of remote business which has seen fuel thefts but I'm not going to tell you what it is.

If rationing is introduced I imagine that fuel thefts will become even more prevalent.

In California's Central Valley the large farms have remote diesel storage tanks that get hit.

Hey, thats a great idea!

Thanks, now this site is likely to be targetted by the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.

"Oh my god they're spreading ideas on how to commit acts of domestic terra...please save us. Round them up, put em in camps."

This is yet one more example of how humanity will quickly fall off the slippery slope into oblivion once we go over the peak. People really are so selfish and stupid that they will do $200 to $2000 worth of damage to a vehicle just to get $50 in gas. Not to mention the loss in productivity for the person whose tank got drilled... When people are willing to do this, it is a harbinger of a total collapse of civilization. It is the same mentality that leads to riots and the property damage that accompanies it, and the economic consequences that always follow.

Tell me about it. I had some thieves do $700 damage to a convertible top to take an ipod charger and a CD case filled with worthless copied CDs. Selfish and stupid indeed.


I agree with you. I wish more people would think like you...

The human brain has not really evolved beyond petty self-interest and greed. Human beings, it seems to me, are incapable of working together for the greater good of humanity. IF humans were really so smart, we would have put this oil energy to a better use, by preparing for the future, instead of fighting wars and killing one another. Maybe we could have eradicated hunger from Africa. But we cannot work together. There is always a "me-first" mentality.

Is southwest scotland (lots of farmland and rural communities) it is central heating oil tanks that are being hit.


I think thieves fall into 2 groups, the first is so dumb that they wouldn't be able to read this website and the second already knows how to steal fuel.
There are now lots of news items on fuel theft. Today I saw one on a service station that has installed tyre spikes and last week another item on a car parked near a rail commuter station that had been siphoned twice.
2 weeks ago i filled my daughters car and had to pre pay, the first (but undoubtedly the last) time that I had experienced this. This was 3pm in western Sydney.
About 15 years ago in rural NSW a farmer accosted a thief stealing fuel from his tank one night. He fired a warning shot into the car that the thief was filling. Unfortunatly the thief's girlfriend was hiding in the car and was wounded. The farmer was charged and sued for injuries and basically ruined. I expect more such violence (from both thieves, victims and frustrated motorists) as the fuel supply and economy turn bad.

I have no sympathy for the theif nor his girlfriend. If you're tresspassing on someone's land or stealing from someone, you should EXPECT to get shot at!

This is TOD Europe. We don't shoot people in Europe for theft or trespassing. At least not on the average :)

In America you can't shoot thieves and their girlfriends out of season.

Oh my gosh... blaming reporting the incident for causing more incidents? People like you apparently believe in security through obscurity, but security experts will tell you that such ideas are nonsensical.

Scapegoating! Scapegoating rather than focusing on the core problem. Classic! Completely classic human behavior! Let's blame those who report such incidents for causing more such incidents!

Sheesh. And people wonder why I am a doomer?

Must be part of the Bush administrations "drill here, drill now" plan.

Now if we only could measure the amount of this new flow, we could add it to the EIA "all liquids" numbers as a new "unconventional source"!

(Sorry, couldn't resist this one. I'll try to be more serious in my next post)

Here in Seattle, same thing. Thieves are using screwdrivers and drills to puncture fuel tanks. I have installed security cams as well as signs saying 'this area under video' and guess what it worked! We had a rash of car break ins and the thieves completely bypassed my house. This will only work for so long. Best option is to park your car in the garage.

Wait until 'Peak Oil' really happens. Look out!!!

Yes, I'm a gun pack'n American with several thousand rounds of ammo.

Good luck!

It's a pity that modern cars have plastic tanks. there were stories of thieves drilling in to older cars with metal tanks and the heat from the drill igniting the fuel. they got a face full of burning oil for their troubles. Sweet.

The thefts started taking off two years ago when gas hit $3, and everybody stocked up on locking gas caps. Drilling is just the next step. Pickups and SUVs are frequent targets because of high ground clearance and large tanks.

The petrol tank on my car is inside the cabin (behind the back seat, visable from the boot). This protects it from a screwdrivering, but unfortunately, the lines to and from the engine bay still have to run through the boot floor and along the drive tunnel. Might be time time to rig up some sort of cover over the accessable rubber lines.

One idea to consider is setting out decoy gas cans contaminated with unleaded+sugar or diesel+sugar. As far as security.. infrared cameras work great. If you have a small chunk of money to spend on security, you can do some pretty interesting things.

Ah, but this is crap, is it not? If you remove the air cleaner and pour sugar straight into the carb (did I just date myself here?) you've made a real mess and sugar in the tank will accumulate in the bottom, plugging things up good, but it would be impossible to serve up enough via this method to truly cause troubles for the thief.

I recall a Mythbusters episode where an old beater of a car kept running just fine on gas/sugar mixed. The substance that finally killed the car was gas/bleach. That was a carborated engine. A coworker's ex-girlfriend sugared his tank and did kill the car, this was a fuel injected engine.

Only if you're forgetful enough and use the gas in the cans in your own vehicle. I was thinking about a tank in a tank w/ a nasty mixture in the bottom portion, but for that much work I might as well just weld up an appropriately sized steel box and bolt it up.

This is why my small emergency fuel stockpile consists of 20liter containers of veg oil and some containers of white spirit ( white gas ). I'm thinking that the theves looking for diesel will not be smart enough to realise that you can use these in an old diesel engine !

Shades of Mad Max, as people scramble, steal, cheat, theive and otherwise become lawless to get or sell fuel.

Imagine 500 dollar a barrel oil, and the result will be testosterone raging motorcycle gangs running rampant on the backroads, siphon hoses strapped to the back seat, shotguns in holsters, lots of cackling laughter with some leader called the Night Rider! Cops will draw from the last of the SPR to fuel turbo charged mustangs.

To finish this scene we just need the perfect couple with a kid in the countryside for a vacation.

ah yes , my dad told me about repairing fuel tanks after WWII here in the uk . Rationing was on and people would slid a tray under the car ( we had small cars then not SUVs!) , punch a hole in the fuel( gas) tank and let it run into the tray...

I guess people will now understand what garages are for - not another room to fill up with junk! :)

still it shows when pushed people will theive.


When I fill up my Honda, it about doubles the car's value. Lucky for me it has a tiny tank and is not worth the bother when all my neighbors drive F350s and Suburbans and whatnot.

The significance of this week's groundbreaking U.S. Geological Survey report on the Far North's untapped potential is that it stretches the bounds of just how much crude may still be out there, said Kevin Book, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets in Arlington, Va.

"Everything is now in play," Mr. Book said. "That should give any peak oil person bad heartburn, if not outright anxiety."


From the article

Resources that many experts once thought might never be tapped could be developed within 15 to 20 years - albeit at a cost. That's because exploration, drilling and transportation become increasingly expensive as you move north.

For example, pipelines, such as the one planned to exploit natural gas in Canada's Mackenzie Delta and Alaska will cost roughly $1.5- to $2-million per mile. More northerly and offshore pipelines could cost four or five times that.

These people still think we have 15-20 years of time! Awesome... Kevin Book can't read and understand numbers. And his name is Book! What an irony...

"These people still think we have 15-20 years of time!"

You mean we don't? Is there no life whatsoever after peak oil?

There is, in all likelihood, no life as we know it after Peak Oil, but the key problem is Peak Exports, and net export declines tend to show an accelerating decline rate versus an exponential decline rate that most declining producing regions show. A production decline is like a commercial airliner doing a gradual descent for landing. A net export decline is like an airliner nosing over and doing a near vertical dive into the ground. Our middle case is that the combined net oil exports from the current top five net oil exporters (about half of current world net oil exports) will be approaching zero in about 23 years, and the EIA data show two years of declining net oil exports--with an accelerating decline rate.

The underlying premise behind the Drill Drill Drill Cornucopian Primal Scream Response is that we can have an infinite rate of increase in our consumption of a finite fossil fuel resource base. I suspect that this premise is not valid.

Maybe he meant we don't have 15-20 years to postpone the peak. Let's try and deduce the most reasonable interpretation from one's argument, not the worst mock argument, shall we.

The future is now - a number of problems have been 15 to 20 years in the future since the late 1970s.

And look - nothing bad happened in the 1990s, so of course, that 15 or 20 years is still available.

And since 2004 wasn't a disaster either, we still have 15 or 20 years, right?

Just like a credit card, right?


If you're interested in the opinion of an industry insider here you go: any debate on how much or how little oil can be developed in the Arctic et al is wasted breath. I've been in oil exploration for 33 years. The oil patch definition of "probable oil reserves" is: I can put as big or as little number I want on the table because you don't have any data to prove me wrong). I hate to offer what seems like a knock on the folks with the Survey (a few there were my school mates) but one cannot measure the value of their numbers without understanding the process. It's like standing in front of a big wall with a sign on the gate saying "Circus Today". You certainly know what a circus is and can do a credible job of predicting what you'll find when you open the gate. You expect to find a field with a probable number of lions, elephants, clowns, acrobats, etc. Hell, there maybe even be animals and acts there beyond your expectations. But you may also find an empty field behind that gate. But if there is no circus there does that make you expectation of a probable circus faulty. After all, there were signs of a circus being there and you do know what a circus contains. You can effectively argue that you did use the proper "circus model" even though you were completely wrong.

Please don't take this as patronizing you or anyone else. There are many long and tedious books on the methodology of reserve estimation. But I just wanted to offer you a sense of the nature of the process.

Certainly fuel theft seems to be going up where I live (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) On my street its siphoning in the middle of the night so far, not drilling the tank.

My next door neighbor has been hit 3 times in the last two months, as have others on the street (no garage so he parks in front of his house). Most recently after taking most of his gas they dumped a handful of dirt into the tank. He drove prior to detecting the theft, some dirt got past the fuel filter and trashed the engines fuel injectors and pump. $1,300 in repairs for that so far and he says it's still not running well.

The tool shed in our church parking lot has been broken into 4 times in the past year, each time the only thing taken was a 2 gallon jerry can full of 2 cycle mix gas for the lawnmower (the lawnmower its self, other garden power tools etc were untouched). After the most recent break in I upgraded the shed door from the $10 padlocks and hardware store hasp, which they had defeated with hand tools, to a high security hasp and padlock from a locksmith, about $100 for the pair, case hardened boron alloy steel, lock has pick resistant security pin keyway etc. This seems to be holding them at bay, for now...

It's not just the fuel that people are stealing !
The platinum in catalytic converters has also become a target:


Around 1980 as the Hunt fiasco unfolded there were many thefts of exposed and even unexposed xray film. A new box of double coated 14x17 inch films could contain as much as $200 silver near the peak. Developed film contained about half that but was available in far larger quantities. There was also some bad film marketed as some companies tried to conserve silver. This is less of a problem today as many of the images are exposed and archived in digital form.
Robert Wilson MD Radiology ret.

My bike's got a flat tyre. I'm wondering if someone stole the air.

The major problem in Portugal is the influx of mainly eastern European illegals. They are notorious for targeting holiday makers hire cars.

Fuel thefts are also a major problem with access to the main tanks from the old fashioned dipstick holes. This is done principally by employees.

Ah yes, it's always handy to employ an alien other to act as scapegoat.

'Illegals' is a label we attach to others. Fellow humans intent on improving the lot of their families would be a good description of the honest, friendly and hard-working East Europeans that I have met who are living beyond the terms of their tourist visas.

Might I suggest you visit Portugal and discuss the activities of the honest, friendly and hard-working East Europeans with the local hoteliers, Police, car hire operators, golf clubs on the way they are intent on improving the lot of their families.

An inconvenient truth my friend.

If illegal immigration is so wonderful, why has Italy just declared a nationwide state of emergency to deal with an influx of illegal immigrants?

"The free movement across borders of capital, goods and services lies at the heart of globalization as it has emerged in the last twenty years. Until now this has been one-way traffic, with developing countries facing demands to open their markets and leave behind the common post-war policies of protectionism. The west began to export its manufactured goods to the developing world, and the West established factories and repatriated the profits, while refusing to reciprocate by opening its agricultural market. Equally damaging however, are the fierce restrictions that the West places on labour migration, or the 'missing global flow' as it it sometimes called. Globalization will only work if the free movement of capital, goods and services is complemented by the free movement of labour, or at the very least a more generous movement than exists now."

Misha Glenny wrote that in his book McMafia. He goes on to show how the uneven playing field so created leads to the creation of a huge market for the transfer of people, driven by the Western demand for cheap, untaxed labour and exploited by organized crime.

My girlfriends father was chatting to a truckie one day last week. The truckie was filling his tanks for a B-Double (prime mover, two trailers) run between Brisbane and Sydney. Au$3000+. One way. This is about 1700L of Diesel, to haul about 20 metric tons of freight, or about 85L/metric ton

A single NR class locomotive can haul 1750 metric tons from Melbourne to Brisbane (1300/T/Loco Junee-Taree section), using about 11,500L of diesel. This is 6.5L/metric ton.

The railway line mostly parallels the National Highway system... :\