With domestic oil tanks capable of storing anything from 500 to 3500 litres, or into five or six figures at farms and businesses, fuel tanks are an ideal target for organised criminals and naughty neighbours alike. Statistics from Crown Oil reveals that there were over 25,000 confirmed fuel thefts in 2018, equating to over £1.75m. However, with nearly half of constabularies withholding theft statistics from the Freedom of Information request, the real cost is likely much higher. In fact, the British Oil Security Syndicate suggests that forecourt theft alone could be as high as £30m.
The Office for Budget Responsibility has just announced that unemployment rates are at a 5 year high in the UK with 1.7 million able now unable to secure a job. Economists expect this to rise to about 2.2 million during 2021. With high unemployment rates and fuel prices starting to return to their normal rate, it’s easy to see how the next couple of years could see an increase in fuel theft. To make matters worse, a combination of factors including underreporting of the crime, and extreme difficulty in identifying ownership of fuel once taken, means that 99% of fuel theft goes unpunished according to police data.
However, there is hope these figures will improve as Norfolk Constabulary have become the national lead for rural fuel theft and the team dedicated to tackling the issue. Earlier this year Sergeant Steve Graves of the Norfolk Constabulary Steve called a summit of industry experts from various roles within the industry with the aim of using our combined knowledge to reduce fuel theft in rural communities. While discussions are still taking place, Steve stressed the importance of the general public being proactive in reporting suspicions of attempted fuel theft to the police as early as possible.
Early detection of fuel theft – before tank owners tamper with the scene – helps the police to identify evidence such as fingerprints. Regularly monitoring fuel levels is vital as victims of fuel theft often don’t know it’s occurred until the fuel runs out. Steve explained that every reported incident of fuel theft (successful or not) helps the police to identify exactly where and how theft occurs and gives them the data needed to make fuel theft prevention a greater priority. On this account, Norfolk Constabulary are successfully fostering a community culture where suspicious activities are reported and can be acted upon.
While we haven’t reached the ‘summit’ of anti-theft tank designs or contraptions, there are precautions that homeowners, farmers and businesses in rural areas can implement to prevent theft and protect the tank and its contents.
Protecting your tank from fuel theft
Firstly, there are various products on the market for around £20-£60 such as lockable fill caps, or even spinning caps which make forced entry via these access points extremely difficult. While this does offer some protection, it also means that thieves may try to penetrate the tank wall itself which causes more issues as excess oil leaks into the surrounding area which then requires a call to the Environmental Agency, a cleanup and new tank. Plastic is far easier to penetrate than steel and the use of heated copper pipes is extremely quick and virtually silent making it a popular method. Steel tanks on the other hand require drilling which is time consuming – particularly for bunded tanks with two tank walls to drill – and far noisier. Where fuel theft is a major concern a steel bunded fuel tank is always best. Other worthwhile gadgets on the market (which can be supplied with our tanks) are electronic fuel gauges and alarms. These are available for around £100-£150 and alert you via a monitor or even app when there is a sudden drop in fuel such as you would expect from fuel theft.
One reason that oil tanks are an ideal target for thieves is that they are typically installed outside and at least 1.8m away from the property. For this reason, Tuffa’s Fire Protected Oil Tank range are arguably the most secure oil tank available on the market. These tanks are factory-fitted with a material offering 30 or 60 minute fire rating meaning you can install the tank adjacent to your property where it can be kept in eyeshot (and ‘earshot’) and in a location less visible from the road. Fire Protected Oil Tanks can also be installed within uninhabited buildings such as a garage or outbuilding which would make theft extremely unlikely.
Other physical barriers can also be used to protect fuel tanks. Thorn bushes are difficult to navigate through and have the added benefit of capturing clothing fibers or blood which can be used as evidence. Tank cages are available on the market – although they look particularly unattractive – and large steel tanks at commercial premises are often valuable enough to warrant bespoke solutions such as interlocking blocks forming a barrier around the tank.
Preventing Fuel Theft
The best form of protection is often a simple deterrent. CCTV does a great job at discouraging theft and is available from as little as £40. Of course, this has the additional potential benefit of being used to identify and convict thieves. Similarly, providing lighting such as motion detection or dawn to dusk lighting is a relatively cheap yet effective way to deter thieves.
While lighting and CCTV are deliberately visible deterrents, Samantha Parnell, Fuel Buyer at Fram Farmers, suggests keeping tanks ‘hidden’ and out of sight of the road but in a location still accessible to fuel suppliers. Samantha elaborates that fuel theft is such a big issue in rural areas that farmers with a tank capacity of 10 or 15,000 litres will only ever order a small amount of fuel in case it gets stolen. Fuel theft is such a concern that it’s not uncommon for Fram Farmer’s customers to leave delivery instructions for the driver to call when the fuel supplier is en route, so the tank isn’t left unlocked for a minute longer than necessary. As a final suggestion, the fuel specialist suggests keeping fuel levels to a minimum when off-season as a way to decrease the value of any fuel stolen.
Public awareness is a great and ‘free’ way to reduce fuel theft and is a major priority for Norfolk Constabulary. Short days and full oil tanks during the winter mean it’s a prime time for theft so it is well worth being particularly vigilant and ensure you have your fill caps and tank lids locked. Whereas some thieves may follow oil tankers or search for oil tanks while driving in rural areas, it is increasingly common for organised criminals to identify tanks from the sky using Google Maps or even drones. With this is mind, anything you can install to disguise your tank from above such as trellis is beneficial – just make sure you still comply with fire separation distances. With this in mind, Tuffa’s Fire Protected Oil Tanks can be installed under a lean-to or hidden under trellis.
Fuel theft is a real concern particularly in rural communities. It’s not just the expense of fuel lost, the inconvenience of being left without heating or even the cost of a new tank, but the cost to the environment that needs to be taken into account. We recommend doing everything within your budget to prevent theft and protect your tank. While some measures such as lighting are relatively cheap, being aware of the issue and reporting suspicious behaviour is free and can be just as effective but only costs a little time.
Tuffa Tanks are a UK bulk storage tank manufacturer boasting a wide range of steel and plastic tanks for fuels, AdBlue, chemicals, water and more. For a quote, please call
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