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Fuel Theft Guide – How To Secure Your Oil Storage Tanks

Fuel theft costs UK businesses and individuals millions every year. Learn how to protect your fuels and oils with our guide to oil storage tank protection.

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Fuel Theft Guide – Prevent thieves from stealing your fuels and oils

Whether you’re a homeowner or business that stores fuels and oils onsite, such as on farms, construction sites, domestic properties and even petrol stations, fuel theft is an ongoing problem. That’s why we’ve put together this free fuel theft guide to help you protect your stored assets and deter opportunistic thieves.

Why is fuel theft increasing?

Global fuel prices have surged in recent times as a result of cuts in oil production, international conflicts and trade embargos. With fuel more expensive at forecourts, there’s been a rise in people filling up their vehicles and driving off without paying. In addition to this, as of 1st of April 2022 many businesses and applications are no longer permitted to use rebated fuel (red diesel or gas oil). This means that stored fuel now appears identical to that purchased for personal use, putting white diesel stocks at a much higher risk of being stolen.

The cost of fuel theft

During July to September 2023 the number of fuel thefts reported rose to 39,563, an increase of 77% when compared to the same period in 2022 and a staggering 362% higher than the same quarter in 2019, before the Covid pandemic (RAC Foundation).

Meanwhile, British Oil Security Syndicate figures have found that the average financial loss for each site is £10,500 a year (BOSS). Moreover, for businesses that store greater quantities of fuel onsite, these costs could be even higher especially when taking into account the costs associated with business disruption.

Fuel theft can include petrol and diesel being stolen from vehicles, and other fuels such as coal, paraffin, kerosene and gas being taken from storage tanks on commercial premises. However; the largest single contributor to this number was drivers leaving fuel stations without payment.

How petrol stations can protect themselves

Fuel stations that invest in security infrastructure such as licence plate readers and higher resolution CCTV will be able to discourage theft, or make it possible to prosecute offenders.

What happens if you drive off without paying for fuel?

‘Making off without payment’ is the term used for someone who leaves a petrol station without paying for their fuel. The maximum penalty for those found guilty of this crime is 2 years and/or an unlimited fine under the Theft Act 1978.

The two main motives for non-payment at fuel stations are drive-offs and no means of payment. If the driver has no means to pay, it is recommended that the station manager takes their contact details, including their: name, address, postcode and car registration. The driver must fill in a “No Means to Pay Declaration” which gives them 7 days to return with payment. You can read up more on this here: Petrol stations Unable to pay rights | Resolver UK.

Preventing fuel thefts from oil storage tanks

Although it’s not possible to completely prevent fuel theft, there are several measures you can take to help reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim.

The main point to remember is that most thieves are opportunistic and will often target locations which offer the greatest possibility of getting away with their crimes. Therefore, we recommend doing all you can to protect your oil storage tank to make theft as difficult as possible.

Fuel thieves are more likely to target farms and construction sites during long winter nights as the prolonged periods of darkness provide them with more opportunities to operate unnoticed. Criminals will often use basic techniques such as using a tube to siphon away the fuel; however, the police have reported more sophisticated techniques being used such as pumping systems to speed up the process and allow them to take a larger amount of fuel and oil.

When it comes to oil storage tank security, there are several measures that you can take to minimise your chances of suffering the effects of fuel theft which we discuss 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 intend to return later. It’s always 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 system. There are several considerations to make when locating your oil tank:

Position – security

The position of your fuel tank will have a significant impact on how hard it is to target in the eyes of a thief. For example, if the tank is situated close to a road, path, drive or alleyway, it’ll be far easier to access. But on the other hand, locating it in a remote area such as behind a garage or shed could also give thieves an advantage as they stand less chance of being seen.

We recommend installing your storage tank close to your house or work premises, ideally in a location with windows, to help to deter thieves. Please note that domestic fuel tank placement must meet OFTEC regulations while commercial fuel tanks must adhere to the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) (England) Regulations 2001. You can discover more information about storing fuel on our oil tank regulations and storage guide.

Position – refilling

As well as considering the security of your tank and the fuel 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.

Oil level gauges and alarms

While your property may already have a burglar alarm, we recommend taking this a step further by fitting an alarm to any external gates that surround your storage tank or inside a shed or outbuilding where your tank is stored.

Another popular option is to install telemetry sensors inside the storage tank itself; if the fuel levels drop below a certain level the system will notify you of any unusual activity, indicating a potential theft or leak.

Consider Diesel Secure

Diesel Secure is an anti-theft marker dye that can be added to UK non-rebated fuel (white diesel, DERV, or road diesel), acting as a deterrent to thieves. Similar to how red diesel was used in the past, Diesel Secure makes it easy for police to identify the fuel as stolen, making it a less appealing for fuel thieves.

Learn more with our Diesel Secure Brochure >

Locking fuel caps and anti siphoning deterrents

Fuel caps and anti-siphoning devices can deter fuel thieves by frustrating their activities and slowing them down, meaning they’re more likely to be caught and making your fuel an inconvenient target.

Lock away tools which could be used to access your tank

It might sound obvious but any unsecured tools could give thieves the perfect opportunity to cut through padlocks or any other defences you’ve put in place. If it’s not in use, lock it away.

Install a cage or security fencing

Installing good quality, strong perimeter fencing or a security cage is a significant deterrent, and will make it far more difficult for an opportunistic thief by slowing them down. Combined with safety bollards that limit close vehicle access, a good fence can drastically reduce the risk of you becoming a victim of fuel theft.

Invest in high-quality padlocks

Investing in high-quality locks such as closed shackle padlocks will offer the most resistance when it comes to thieves trying to break through. Due to their design, there is very little of the metal hoop (shackle) exposed which in turn will make it more difficult for a bolt cutter to get a good grip.

Invest in outdoor security lighting

Our advice so far has been to keep your tank our of plain sight, so masking it in bright lights may seem at odds. But nonetheless, security lighting is an excellent solution worth considering.

Most criminals will use the cover of darkness to carry out their activities, so installing security lighting will help to prevent your fuel storage system being targeted.

Installing a combination of low energy ‘dusk till dawn’ lights near the storage tank should in most cases provide sufficient light to illuminate any suspicious activity without drawing too much attention to the tank itself. This type of lighting is a cost-effective solution to help protect your fuel.

Motion-sensor lights can also help to illuminate the area, dissuading those looking for an opportunity to strike.

Install CCTV to cover your storage tank and surrounding areas

Whilst outdoor lighting may be a good enough deterrent in a populated area, installing CCTV around your premises is an extra layer of security. It can either dissuade anyone from stealing your fuel in the first place or it can provide the authorities with information to help find the people responsible.

You can find further information from the Government about CCTV here.

Place signage around the site

Placing signs around the site or premises can help to highlight the security measures you’ve put in place, which acts as a further deterrent.

Start securing your own storage tanks today

With the cost of fuels and oils on the rise and the removal of rebated fuel for many sectors, fuel theft is considered easy money for criminal enterprises and opportunistic thieves alike.

If you’re planning to install a new storage tank on a construction site, business premises or at a domestic property, we can help with our 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 oil storage tanks and related services, give our friendly and knowledgeable team a call today on 0330 123 1444 to discuss your requirements.

The figures and statistics were correct at the time of publication.

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