RCMP in at least two provinces say there have been big jumps in fuel thefts in 2022, compared to 2021.
In Saskatchewan, RCMP say there was a 70 percent jump in people stealing gasoline or diesel fuel in 2022—around 818 cases in total.
“Of that, 510 of those were mostly from someone fuelling up at a gas station then leaving without paying, so the typical ‘gas and dash.’ And then 106 of that is from bulk fuel tanks at businesses, farms, or rural municipalities,” said Saskatchewan RCMP media relations officer Jessica Murphy.
Another 117 reports of theft were from large fuel tanks or heavy machinery, either by siphoning or drilling the tank, Murphy said.
In Saskatchewan, RCMP cover rural areas and most smaller communities, but a number of cities have their own forces.
In Manitoba, RCMP estimate thefts involving fuel jumped around 43 percent—approximately 972 in 2022, compared to 682 the year before. However, in an e-mail a spokesperson cautioned it is difficult to track fuel thefts exactly, since most are simply classed as theft.
Murphy was hesitant to say why there has been such a jump, but one gas analyst says it’s almost certainly related to the rising cost of fuel.
“It is clear evidence how desperate the situation is becoming in this country, while we fantasize about ways in which to shut down the energy industry and drive up the cost of pretty much everything,” said Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy.
“It’s not surprising one of the consequences—and there are many—is that desperate people are doing desperately foolish things,” he said. “These events are happening frequently, and it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon.”
It’s not easy to get a national picture of whether gas thefts are on the rise.
For example, in Alberta, Mounties say fuel thefts are not tracked as a separate category, so compiling the numbers would take time.
Ontario Provincial Police do keep track of people driving off from the pumps without paying, but other types of theft involving fuel are not tracked separately.
“We saw a small increase in actual thefts in 2022, compared to the five year average,” said an OPP spokesperson in an email. He said the OPP dealt with 1,972 cases of “drive-offs” in 2022, which is only slightly above the five-year average of 1,948.
“An increasing number of gas stations are moving to a pre-pay only system, which is an excellent way of preventing this type of theft,” the spokesperson said.
Stolen Fuel Impossible to Trace
Tracking fuel theft numbers is only one of the challenges. Murphy said a big problem for police is that stolen gas can’t be traced—another reason why RCMP are urging people to do what they can to safeguard against fuel thefts.
“Fuel is impossible to identify once it’s been removed from a vehicle or container, it can’t be traced,” she said. “So we felt it was important for Saskatchewan residents to be aware of this increase and reinforce the need to take steps to help prevent fuel theft at their own homes and businesses.”
McTeague agreed, pointing to a gas station visible from his Ontario home.
“[The owner] has on one of those pumps … (a picture) of a truck that stole gasoline back in June, and another one in October,” he said.
“You can see they can take pictures of this, but there’s nothing they can do about it. … Most people are just shrugging their shoulders and saying who cares? But it means everything to lose $150 when your margins are probably only $50 to $150 a day. If somebody steals your gasoline, you’ve got to make it up somehow.”
In addition, police resources are limited, he said, and gas theft is not perceived by many as a serious crime.
“Many people believe they can do these things with impunity—there are no consequences,” Mc Teague said. “It goes with the growing sense of … people who are going to do foolish and uncaring and unkind things and for which theft is acceptable.”
Murphy said the thefts in Saskatchewan are happening all over the province, and it seems to be continuing this year. For example, there were two cases of thieves drilling into gas tanks on Feb. 27.
Saskatchewan RCMP do have some tips to help people reduce their risk.
- Lock privately owned fuel tanks
- Have video or photo surveillance around privately owned fuel tanks
- Park vehicles in a locked garage or in well lit areas
- Park with fuel door facing a frequently travelled road
- Don’t park in one area, or leave a vehicle unattended, for an extended period
- Activate alarm when vehicle not in use
- Report suspicious activity to police
McTeague said the price of fuel, and the theft that goes with it, are unlikely to drop anytime soon.
“What has changed is the absolute undeniable fact that Canadians are now having a hard time making ends meet, and that is a growing number,” he said.