Fuel theft costs millions – learn how to prevent thieves from stealing your fuels and oils
No matter whether you’re a petrol station dealing with the ongoing problem on no payment or a home or business storing your fuels and oils in an onsite location, including farms, construction sites and domestic properties or even in inner-city locations, fuel theft is an ongoing problem.
In fact, by some estimates, forecourt fuel theft runs a bill of around £30 million every year, so being informed on good fuel storage tank security is paramount.1
Fuel theft statistics
We wanted to the extent of fuel theft in the UK, so we requested fuel theft data from the UK’s police forces, and the results were surprising.
We discovered that there were at least 25,614 confirmed fuel thefts in 2018, equating to over £1.75m lost to business and domestic users. Taking into account the constabularies that did not provide data, that number could rise to over £9m each year.
Meanwhile, British Oil Security Syndicate suggests that forecourt theft alone could be as high as £30 million annually.1
Fuel theft can include petrol and diesel being stolen from vehicles, other fuels including coal, paraffin, kerosene and gas being taken from storage tanks on commercial premises. However; the largest single contributor to this number was drivers leaving without payment from a fuel station.
The cost of fuel thefts
Only 50% of constabularies contacted responded at the time of writing; however, the data received paints a damning picture.
Data from London’s Metropolitan Police revealed that the value of fuel stolen equalled £1,113,074.98 in 2018, with 22 of the remaining 45 constabularies around the UK reporting an additional £638,217 worth of fuels stolen – totalling a staggering £1.75 million pounds of fuel stolen in 2018.
The available data also revealed the average value of each theft cost its victim £91.21. Expanding this across the country, the estimated total figure that thefts of fuel cost the UK is £9.0 million, after an estimated 120,000 thefts nationally.
An additional trend seen from data in multiple constabularies is that perhaps petrol stations are the hardest hit by fuel criminals. From the available data, around 80% of thefts were making off without payment and only around 1% of fuel thefts resulted in a prosecution indicating a need for fuel stations to do more to protect themselves.
- The data reveals that fuel theft incidents in 2018 saw an 11% drop year on year, although when compared to fuel theft figures in 2016, incidents increased by a third of a per cent nationally.
- The highest increase in fuel theft was in Durham (29% higher year on year).
- The sharpest decrease was in Bedfordshire (55% lower year on year).
- When compared with 2016, Dyfed-Powys police have seen fuel theft reports rise by 98%, from 274 to 542 in 2018.
- The constabulary with the highest number of offences was Greater London, with 13,799 fuel thefts reported – which is more than triple the next highest, in West Yorkshire, with 4,123 reported offences.
- The fewest recorded incidents were in the Port of Dover, with zero reported incidents of fuel theft since 2016.
|Region||2016||2017||2018||Change YoY||2016 v 2018|
|Devon and Cornwall||918||1000||1010||1.00%||10.02%|
|Avon and Somerset||1001||686||553||-19.39%||-44.76%|
|Port of Dover||0||0||0||0.00%||0.00%|
How petrol stations can protect themselves
According to the UK’s police services, by far the majority of fuel-related crimes are for no-payment, costing them money every day.
The two major reasons for non-payment in fuel stations are drive-offs and no means of payment. Fortunately, there are a few things fuel station owners and managers can consider to prevent nefarious types taking advantage of them.
Alarmingly, our data suggests that only 1.3% of fuel thefts result in a charge, with the prevailing challenge being not being able to name a suspect. Fuel stations that invest in security infrastructures such as licence plate readers and higher resolution CCTV will be able to mitigate the occurrences of theft.
In the event of no means of payment, to ensure that the customer is not trying to benefit from kindness, taking some personal details will allow you to locate them to retrieve your payment.
Preventing fuel thefts from fuel storage tanks
Although it’s not possible to completely prevent fuel theft, there are measures you can take to try and ensure that you don’t become a victim of this crime yourself.
The main point to remember is that most thieves are opportunistic and will often target locations which offer them the great possibility of getting away with their crimes. So, you should do all you can to protect your fuel storage tank in order to ensure you make things as difficult as possible to help themselves to your fuels and oil.
Fuel thieves are often more likely to target farms and construction sites during the long winter nights as the cover of darkness provides them with opportunities to get away with their crimes unnoticed. Criminals will often use basic techniques such as using a tube to siphon away the fuel, but the Police have reported more sophisticated techniques being used such as pumping systems to speed up and allow them to get away with an increased amount of fuels and oils.
The cost of fuel theft as a crime can run into several thousand, if not tens of thousands of pounds to repair the damage caused and replace lost fuels and oils which could put the victims into financial hardship. When it comes to fuel storage tank security, there are several measures which victims of these crimes can use to minimise their chances of suffering the effects of fuel theft which we’ll go over below.
Above all, you should always report any suspicious behaviour around your property or neighbours’ properties. Even if you don’t hear about any instances of thefts in your area, it could well be that they were spooked and left or decided to come back another night with the tools for the job. So, it’s advisable to let the Police know about any of your concerns or observations.
Location of your storage tank
Location is the first layer of protection for your fuel storage tank’s content if you’re fitting a new storage tank on-site or at your business or home premises and as such there’s a lot of considerations to make when planning where to have your storage tank installed.
Of course, if you already have a fuel storage tank on-site or at your premises, it may not always be practical to have this moved, but there are other options available to you to secure existing tanks, so you may want to skip this section or keep it in mind when you come to replace your storage tank.
Position – Security
The position of an oil tank is an important consideration, it needs to be installed in a safe location where it’s not going to cause an obstruction or risk being damaged by being driven into by any vehicles.
The position of the storage tank will have a significant effect on how hard a target it is in the eyes of the thief, if the tank is close to a road, path, drive or alleyway then it will be a far easier target. As a result, many people consider hiding it behind garages or sheds for example, but the fuel tank being out of sight could actually give thieves an advantage as they stand less chance of being noticed if nobody can see them.
Installing your storage tanks close to your house or work premises so that they can be easily seen from a building, ideally, in a location with windows to increase the risk to a thief of being spotted by somebody. With this method, many will consider it to be too big a risk to target, since they will prefer more remote tanks to ensure they are not spotted, and there is a higher chance that your diesel tank will be left alone.
Position – Refilling
As well as considering the security of your tank and the heating oil inside it, it’s also important to ensure that the location is accessible to oil tanker drivers. An unsafe or difficult to access location may seem like a great idea to make it more difficult to steal your fuels and oils, but it will also make it difficult to safely fill your storage tank.
Use control switches on your storage tanks
If you already have control switches controlling the flow of oil from your storage tank, you should ensure they’re always turned off at night or when not in use. You should also ensure that the electricity supplies are also isolated when the tank is not in use. This will make it more difficult for fuel thieves.
Oil level gauges and alarms
Your business or domestic premises most likely already has a good quality burglar alarm protecting your property, but you could take these a step further by fitting alarms to external gates surrounding your storage tank or inside a shed or outbuilding where your storage tank is installed if that’s the case. Ideally, these will be connected to a telephone line to alert somebody if the alarm does sound, whether that be the key-holder for the premises or site or an external control centre that would then in turn alert you.
Something else to consider would be an alarm on your fuel storage tank itself, so if the fuel or oil levels within your tank drop below a certain level, then this tank alarm would then alert you, a key-holder or a control centre about any changes in levels.
It might not always be the case that the levels have changed due to your diesel, kerosene or any other fuel or oil being stolen by thieves. It could also alert you to a leak in your tank which could be just as disastrous for your business or home.
Locking Fuel Caps and Anti Siphoning Deterrents
Anything you can do to both slow down and disrupt the relative ease that most criminals find they’re able to access fuel and oil storage tanks is a must. Most thieves will rely on the element of surprise and hope to be in and out as quickly as possible to limit the chances of being caught in the act.
So, anything you can do to slow or even frustrate their activities to the point they give up and move on to find an easier target will lessen your chances of becoming a victim to fuel theft.
Lock away tools which could be used to access your tank
It’s easily done, it’s been a busy day and somebody leaves some tools lying around in a yard and forgets to store them away somewhere safe. It could be just about anything which could be used to help break padlocks or fences or any other defences you’ve put into place.
Meaning all of your hard work securing your fuel or oil storage tank could be undone by providing criminals with another means to try and get their hands on your fuel.
Install a cage or security fencing
Installing good quality, strong perimeter fencing or a security cage will make life difficult for any occasional or opportunistic thief, but might not prevent a prospective thief that has come actively prepared with a suitable vehicle, containers and means of accessing the storage tank, but should slow them down.
Anything you can do to make it more difficult to approach the area by vehicle, such as installing security bollards on roads approaching and around the tank will all go some way to help increase the effort any perspective thief has to go to and thus hopefully reduce your risk of you becoming a victim of fuel theft.
Invest in high-quality padlocks
Of course, no matter how strong the fence or other measures you install are, they’re only ever going to be as good as the padlocks and other devices used to secure the gates, fencing and storage tanks themselves.
Although most thieves will usually come equipped with a range of tools, ready to attack your storage tank and other security measures. It’s still worth spending a little more on high-quality locks such as closed shackle padlocks as they offer the most resistance to the tools most burglars will use to break locks such as bolt croppers. Due to their design, closed shackle padlocks have very little of the metal hoop (shackle) exposed which in turn makes it more difficult for a bolt cropper to get a good grip.
Consider using defensive planting
Now you either have this vision of a plants vs zombies scenario (ask your kids) or The Day of the Triffids (for those into 60s Sci-fi movies) or indeed envisioning the idea of planting a few flowers and shrubs around your storage tank with a sign politely asking people not to step on the flowers.
Well you could, the flowers we mean… A few nice plants and flowers would, of course, brighten the area up, but we were actually thinking more about planting prickly hedges around the perimeter of your storage tank to restrict access to it in a hurry.
Although many thieves may bring the tools to cut fences and padlocks, most will not have the time to spend removing prickly hedges to free up access if they were unable to access your storage tank through the gate due to the strength of the padlock or through trying to avoid being seen from an adjacent building.
Invest in outdoor security lighting
You may have concluded so far that the advice has been to try and keep your storage tank out of plain sight, so masking it in lights so bright they can be seen for miles may seem at odds with what we’ve suggested so far. Nonetheless, security lighting is an effective solution worth considering.
The majority of criminals will use the cover of darkness to carry out their activities, so installing some form of security lighting will help to prevent all but the most determined criminals from targeting your fuel storage tanks.
By adding a mixture of low energy ‘dusk ’till dawn’ lights near to the storage tank should, in most cases, provide sufficient light to illuminate any suspicious activity without drawing too much attention to the storage tank itself. These types of lights can be quite effective and shouldn’t cost too much money to install and run and is a cost-effective way of protecting your diesel fuel.
And some additional motion-activated lights high up and out of harm’s way, to illuminate the area and dissuade those acting suspiciously from staying in the area for fear of being noticed.
Install CCTV to cover your storage tank and surrounding areas
If you’re in an area that is quite populated or trafficked, the outdoor lighting may well be a deterrent enough to prevent all but the most determined criminal elements from laying claim to your fuels and oils. But for those who have either been targeted previously or don’t plan to wait for that to happen.
Installing a CCTV camera around your premises can both dissuade anybody from trying as well as helping to provide the Police with some additional leads to bring to justice those who do ultimately ignore the deterrent.
You can find further information from the Government about CCTV here.
Place signage around the site
Of course, placing signs around the site or premises to highlight the security measures you have put in place may really only help to deter some vandals and youths up to mischief from entering the site.
However, most fuel thieves will likely ignore and take no notice of the signs, but anybody passing by in the area will notice the signs and this could lead them to question the strange activities taking place in the dead of night on your premises which they’ve never noticed previously.
Signs you may want to consider putting up include;
Private property keep out
Warning CCTV in operation
Security patrols in operation
All vehicles have security devices
All vehicles are left with minimum fuel
Hopefully, we’ve given you enough ideas about oil tank security and how you can secure your fuels and oils safely in your on-site storage tankers from thieves. With the prices of fuels and oils being the way they are, it’s considered to be easy money for these criminal enterprises and opportunistic thieves alike.
If you’re planning to install a new storage tanker on a construction site, business premises or even on the grounds of a domestic property, we can help you with a range of products and services including storage tank installation, fuel uplifts and transfers as well as supplying a wide range of fuels, oils and lubricants.
To find out more about how we can help you with the installation of fuel storage tanks and related services, give our friendly and knowledgeable team a call today on 0845 313 0845 to discuss your requirements.