walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Railing at the economists: coverage of gas thefts/thieves

More from the idiot economists over at the NYT:

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/16/our-daily-bleg-who-are-the-gas-siphoners/

Basic question: I'm not seeing any articles about gas siphoning, even tho gas is expensive. And besides, how could they sell it?

Essentially, a question asked by someone who is convinced you'd have to buy a lot of stuff to start a garden, and that mending clothes isn't economical. I should quit reading this stuff, but the headlines suck me in and it's too late by the time I've clicked because I read too fast. Just as a lark, I went over to google news and typed in "gas thieves", to see if articles are, in fact, hard to find on this topic (I've seen a half dozen over the last few weeks, personally, but maybe I was filtering for them).

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080616/NEWS01/806160315/1060

Here, the auto mechanics note that smart siphoners have bypassed the little gas tank door, in favor of cutting the gas line directly. Clever!

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1213422930143010.xml&coll=7

As with the previous article, locking gas caps are sold out. We also learn that the cops don't track gas theft separately and many people don't report it figuring it's too low dollar to bother with.

http://www.bradenton.com/331/story/676180.html

All three of the above note that trucks are particularly targeted, presumably because they have bigger tanks. Possibly also because there are a lot of desperate truckers out there willing to buy diesel that, er, fell off the back of, er, a truck. Hmmm.

http://www.kimatv.com/news/local/19932694.html

While I don't have the other links, this farmer is suffering from fuel theft. The other article said that irrigation pumps were a particular target. Again, some of the temptation is how big the tanks are; I'm sure isolation contributes as well.

http://www.ktvb.com/news/localnews/stories/ktvbn-jun1208-boise_gas_thefts.2670aaab.html

Clearly, the author of this piece is acting like this a new thing and that locking gas caps are a new idea to their readers/viewers. However, the final graf is an all-too-familiar:

"Auto parts workers say some thieves have gotten so desperate that they have begun drilling under gas tanks to empty them."

Classic Boise: gosh, life moves a lot slower out here and we don't have the problems of the Big Cities. Hardly. They just lie about it.

http://www.kswo.com/Global/story.asp?S=8484282

Siphoning from a cop car! And the news van! Nice! And working airport parking lots. Clever -- you can be pretty sure you'll have a leisurely time working your way through an entire fleet before someone shows up. Sort of like mosquitos. Or vampire bats. Gas vampires. And like black flies, they'll drill you before they drink up (the tank, anyway). I particularly love that they advocate locking gas caps as the last graf -- AFTER they note thieves are drilling tanks. Yeah, locking gas caps will help with _that_ problem.

Everything I've quotes is from before the NYT column, but is less than a week old. I've searched for gas thieves on google in the past (6-12 months ago?) and mostly come up with drive-off articles. Only one such article showed up on the first page of results this time.

http://www.cbc.ca/consumer/story/2008/06/13/gas-theft.html

Those Canadians are so nice! They don't want to make people prepay because of the inconvenience. And yet some Canadians will almost strand people after nearly drinking the tank dry.

http://www.pantagraph.com/articles/2008/06/11/news/doc484fe4826d85d529404105.txt

This article is another drilling article which notes that drive-offs have largely ended due to changes in gas station policies (won't turn on the pump unless you pay in advance). It starts with a sympathetic mother driving her kid to school and continues to describe how SUVs and pick-ups are favorite targets for thieves going after the fuel line and/or drilling the tank because it's easier to get at the underside. Again, the special attractions of big rigs and delivery vans because they have bigger tanks.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/20080611_13_New_Jersey_government_gas_thieves_charged.html

NJ state employees charged with gas theft! It's the new white collar crime, apparently. These were all for personal use.

This one probably went up after the NYT column, but it's a great summary. Gas over price X means the locking gas caps fly off the shelves. Drilling. Bunch of homes in a neighborhood all hit at once. Police only just starting to hear about it. No more drive-offs because the stations require prepay -- it's all here. Including the 70 year old guy they charged for pumping 900+ gallons from underground tanks (that's the kind of coverage I'd been seeing over the last few weeks -- thieves hitting gas stations with tanks hidden in winnebagos and stuff like that).

Yeah. That's why we need an economist to explain the lack of news coverage of gas thieves. To be fair, we could use an explanation of what the thieves are doing with the gas -- is there a resale market? Some of the articles I've read in the past indicate there is (desperate truckers buying cheaper diesel because they bid on a job and then their fuel costs went up), but I've been unsuccessful tracking any of that down right now. I have a tough time imagining someone needs 900+ gallons for himself, but hey, maybe it's a farmer replacing what someone else stole from him. My first google efforts have failed to turn anything up.

Interesting little teaser in this article about drive-offs:

http://edwardsvillejournal.stltoday.com/articles/2008/06/14/news/sj2tn20080614-0615edw-stealing.ii1.txt

This is an involved discussion of prepay policy at small gas stations in rural Illinois. Some of the driveoffs involved a guy with a bunch of canisters in his pickup bed; he was definitely reselling. Stations without prepay were differentially targeted (duh), but still reluctant to impose a prepay rule for the usual idiot reasons (that means we don't trust our customers! well, YEAH!).

"Thefts have been reported across Madison and St. Clair counties, officials said, including a case last week in which an Edwardsville man was charged with stealing from three Glen Carbon stations, then selling the gas to others and turning a profit." They got him on camera, connected him to other thefts and think they know where he was selling it and that other people were involved. That's organized crime, and I cannot believe that it's only happening in rural Illinois.

Want a _real_ economic argument for why there haven't been very many articles on gas theft?

(1) Well, there _have_ been a bunch of articles.
(2) Actually doing real journalism involves like, a little effort. Which costs money. Which profit-making media conglomerates don't really like to do, if they can help it.

So what you see instead is a bunch of the small town papers and news organizations covering it when, presumably, they are inundated with complaints about it.

This one's a really great article:

http://www.sundaypaper.com/More/Archives/tabid/98/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/2578/High-gas-prices-spawn-siphoning.aspx

The idea here is that quite a lot of the crime might not even be noticed by the victim, since
it's done without damaging the car or emptying the tank (3-5 gallons from each vehicle in a lot, say). The article concludes by noting that probably a lot of siphoners are career criminals or truly down-and-out and depending on how they're doing it, they could really damage their health.

If this is the case, it might just be that people are getting their next fix with a gallon of
stolen gas.

ETA: Who is buying the stolen fuel, Take Two:

http://www.capitalpress.info/main.asp?SectionID=75&SubSectionID=767&ArticleID=42198&TM=12183.27

Truckers!

Again, farms, trucks, transportation yards all favored targets for thieves. This article also ties it into metals thefts, which makes sense to me. Without any support, this article suggests desperate truckers for the fuels. Solving the metals problem isn't that hard; stop the cash payments for metals. At least one state instituted a photo system (we'll take your picture and your address and send you a check, okay?).

These guys say truck stops are fencing the stuff, but supply no evidence ("It's believed the fuel is then sold on the black market to truck stops."). (Where is this "black market"? Is it near the Shaw's? Maybe Macy's?)

And FINALLY! Evidence!

The farm gas is dyed red and doesn't have road taxes in it (makes sense), so you can _track_ it!

http://www.kspr.com/news/local/19412529.html

Basically: some guys with a pump (13 gallons/minute) were robbing farmers and selling to truckers. Ah! Keep it all in the family guys, cause you know how much nicer, kinder and gentler life is in the country, eh? The truckers couldn't resist, because they were getting killed on diesel prices. Law enforcement, while they can understand the temptation, aren't too sympathetic, because the red dye means everyone knew exactly what they were buying. They may charge the buyers as well as the thieves/sellers. As well they should!
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