By KELIN DILLON
In the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, gangs of huachicoleros – gas thieves and resellers – have taken their operations to another level of stealth, building secret underground tunnels to tap into and siphon gas from the area’s network of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) pipelines without detection.
According to soldiers stationed in the region, the huachicoleros are able to steal gas from more than 800 meters away by feeding extraction hoses through these tunnels, working across the 300 kilometers of Hidalgo pipeline the huachicoleros have laid siege to across the Tuxpan-Tula, Tuxpan-Azcapotzalco, Tula-Salamanca and Tula-Azcapotzalco pipelines, and storing the siphoned drums in makeshift warehouses.
“They dig the tunnel into the side of the land and prop it up with wood so that it can support the weight of the earth and they can continue working for longer,” revealed one of the area’s military commanders. “They use the minimum space necessary for criminals to get in, put the socket, take out the hose and can continue working.”
“They operate at night. Normally they drill the pipeline where the military surveillance or the National Guard or Pemex’s Physical Security stops doing it for long periods of time. They drill the pipeline using a makeshift system that they have and then they put nipples on it, a high-pressure valve and a hose to start the robbery,” added the official.
More than 1,000 military personnel currently patrol the pipeline area throughout 12 of Hidalgo municipalities, receiving an average of 15 alerts per day about illegal gas siphoning, particularly as the huachicoleros expand outside of the rural countryside and toward tapping into populated regions. Despite the military presence, officials have stated that the low investment cost of huachicoleros’ business only continues to encourage gas theft, requiring just a manual drill, a valve, a nipple, hoses and drums to carry out the heist that can be easily abandoned and repurchased if a set-up is caught by the authorities.
“Now, due to the large number of seizures that have occurred, Hidalgo is in first place in fuel theft on Mexico’s national level,” said another military commander.