Fuel theft is an on-going problem for the road transport and haulage sector. One way the crime can manifest is as theft from individual vehicle fuel tanks, either by employees or from vehicles parked up at remote locations. More recently however, the problem has escalated, with large thefts being made directly from depot bulk-storage tanks.

These thefts are far more sophisticated and involve long-term planning, resources, and a vehicle capable of transporting the large volumes being stolen. This type of attack is usually repetitive, with thousands of litres being stolen every few days. If not detected quickly, this can continue for weeks resulting in tens or hundreds of thousands of litres of fuel being stolen.

Hoses and pipework for fuel theft.

Hoses and pipework ready to be used for fuel theft.

Merridale have seen several of their customers unfortunately fall victim to this type of theft in recent months, with a total fuel loss between them of around a quarter of a million litres.

Merridale’s Technical Director, John Russell, warns “This is more than just ‘turn up and steal something’. It is organised crime on a bigger scale.

“Evidence shows that after selecting a target storage tank, the thieves will set up first by drilling an access hole into the side or top of the tank. This will then be covered and disguised to avoid detection. They will then return at a later date, equipped with a suitable vehicle and the equipment required to extract the fuel.

“Pipework will be laid through undergrowth and shrubland, for hundreds of metres, to an out-of-the-way location that is suitable for operating the pumping equipment and accessible to the vehicle. The criminals will then pump out several thousand litres at night, and return every two or three nights to repeat the process.

“Tanks at the perimeter of a compound next to trees and bushes are, therefore, most at risk. And our experience shows that security fencing, 24-hour site manning and CCTV do not appear to be a barrier to this type of operation.”

Theft alerts
A full Merridale package includes a high-accuracy tank management system. This, combined with the Merridale FuelWorks service, can now provide warnings of any unauthorised or unexpected drop in the contents level of the bulk-storage tank. If a theft appears to be in progress, FuelWorks will send real-time alerts by both email and text message, to designated personnel. These alerts will continue periodically until the stock level has stopped dropping.

Hole drilled in side of fuel tank for fuel theft pipework access.

Hole drilled in side of fuel tank for fuel theft pipework access.

“The real-time reaction depends on the specification of your management systems,” explains John Russell. “To achieve rapid notification, you need to have the latest specification Merridale fuel and tank management systems, and they need to be installed and configured for this purpose, and operating in real time.

Stock loss warnings
“For customers with earlier generation Merridale tank gauges, or management systems that do not have this capability, FuelWorks will still carry out a reconciliation process after the end-of-day dip. This has also been enhanced to detect any unexplained drop in fuel, and should any serious discrepancy be detected, users set up to receive Tank Alarms Alerts will now receive a warning by email.

“Whilst this is not as immediate as the real-time stock monitoring – it notifies after the event and not as it happens – it does however, provide older installations with a method of warning the site manager that something untoward may be happening with their fuel stock.

“In any event, any large negative adjustment on a stock reconciliation report should always be investigated. You may simply have entered a delivery incorrectly, but you may just possibly be having your fuel stolen.”

If customers need assistance with configuring alerts in FuelWorks, they can contact the Merridale help desk. For customers using older systems, there are always upgrade routes. Further information can be obtained from the Merridale sales office.