Insurers warn of thieves targeting rural fuel tanks

Farmers and rural homeowners have been warned to check the security of their fuel tanks amid increased fears that they could be targeted by gangs of professional criminals keen to cash in on high prices at the pumps.
William Nicholl of LycettsWilliam Nicholl of Lycetts
William Nicholl of Lycetts

Storage tanks often contain hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of pounds worth of oil, so they are an obvious target for thieves, warned William Nicholl, client director with insurance brokers, Lycetts.

“In times of high oil prices, there is a tendency for people to stockpile supplies before greater price increases occur, while farmers and those who live in remote rural areas also often prefer to keep their tanks at the highest level in case deliveries are delayed.”

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He said that storing large amounts of oil on-site made farm tanks particularly vulnerable.

“Stealing oil is not a hi-tech, difficult to organise crime. A 1000-litre tank can be drained within minutes,” Nicholll warned.

Siting tanks out of view from roads was a sensible precaution – but they shouldn’t be hidden away in areas of the property that make it easier for thieves to act unobserved.

While lighting and CCTV cameras could be effective security measures, it was important to maintain them and test them regularly to ensure they were still operating properly.

The actual material tanks were made from was another security consideration, with steel being much more difficult for thieves to drill through, or carry away.

And while daily checks should be carried out, technology was now available to alert owners’ mobile phones to sudden drops in fuel levels.

Rural insurers NFU Mutual agreed with the threat and their rural affairs specialist, Rebecca Davidson, said that the price rises and shortages of fuel and fertilisers had not only threatened food production but had also made storing them a major temptation for thieves.

“Over the years we have found that criminals react very quickly to target goods which have become expensive and in short supply,” said Davidson.

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But she also warned that it had become clear that many farmers were planning increased on-farm red diesel storage tanks because of fears of shortages and even higher prices through harvest.

“Over the last decade, many farmers have reduced the amount of fuel they store on farm because of the theft risk. If it’s now good planning to keep more diesel on farm, care needs to be taken to place the tanks out of public view and put security measures in place.

“As well as the loss of expensive fuel, thieves often damage tanks leaving fuel running into the ground where it can cause horrendous pollution.

And she added that as prices rose, it was also important to keep in regular contact with farm insurers to make sure there was adequate cover in place for the fuel, fertiliser and stored crops on the farm.

She also warned that with many tractors and other farm equipment having large fuel tanks to cover a day’s work, it was important to make sure that these, too were kept locked and away from prying eyes.

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