The Permian Basin may have a modern day version of Bonnie and Clyde on their hands after multiple oil field thefts have been reported to authorities recently in a three-county area of West Texas.
The thefts have gotten so staggering that the El Paso division of the FBI has been brought in to help identify stolen oilfield equipment and suspects. According to Inside Energy, oilfield equipment thefts are ranging anywhere from $400,000 to $800,000 in value each month. Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter says that the decline in oil prices translating into job losses across West Texas is contributing to the ongoing thefts.
“They live paycheck to paycheck,” Painter said. “And they don’t have means to get enough money to get out of here, to move out whenever they get laid off. So they go to stealing. And that’s what we’re looking at right now.”
Among the most common stolen items are theft of tools, pipes, and valves, all of which authorities say are easy to pawn in both the U.S. and Mexico.
“We’ve had contact with people out of Mexico right across the border in Chihuahua State,” Painter said. “We have a large amount of equipment in the Permian Basin area that’s stolen that’s going south across the border. We’ve caught a lot of stuff going across.”
Oilfield worker Mark Johnson says that oilfield thefts are a part of the landscape and that these thefts take place no matter what the price of oil is.
“People have got to eat,” Johnson said. “I’m not saying it’s right. It’s definitely not right. It’s wrong, but when you lose your job you’ve got to find some way to make money. And it’s hard to make money around here without being in the oilfield.”
Oilfield crime is not a new trend in the United States. Beginning in May, FBI agents will be working in Williston, North Dakota to combat the rise in crime in the Bakken. Also, Oklahoma and Arkansas are also discussing possible FBI posts after local law enforcement there requested they help them create oilfield theft units there.