China will hand out severe punishment, including the death penalty, to those
who steal fuel from oil pipelines in the future.
An 8-month crackdown, which started this week, aims to reduce rampant theft
and to prevent it from spreading following the recent rise in fuel prices,
officials from the Ministry of Public Security told a press briefing in Beijing
Although pipeline fuel theft has generally been on the decrease since 2002,
stealing oil is still a big problem in certain areas.
This threatens public security and results in huge economic losses, said Ma
Weiya, deputy director of the ministry's social security management department.
People stealing oil were normally imprisoned for theft, Ma said. But if their
activities undermine pipeline safety and threaten public order, they will be
given more severe punishment, even the death penalty.
Official figures show that 2,877 people were arrested last year for stealing
oil or gas from pipelines. The police recovered about 1 billion yuan (US$123
million) worth of stolen fuel for oil companies.
China's oil and gas pipeline network is 30,000 kilometres long, and is
expanding, Ma said.
He added that more cases of theft might have occurred, but gone unnoticed, in
China's vast countryside. "But so far we haven't found any foreign-related
He said the ministry believes fuel theft might increase again in the next few
years as more pipelines are to be built and because of the steady rise in fuel
"Most of the thieves are rural people who earn very little. They steal the
fuel and sell it," he said.
"The police will show these gangs no leniency, even though some are under the
protection of local governments, which use the stolen fuel to boost local
economies," Ma said.
Dangerous to steal
The most common way of stealing, according to the ministry, is by drilling a
hole in a section of pipeline and putting on a tap.
Ma said it is extremely dangerous as a single spark could easily trigger an
explosion if there was a fuel leak.
In December 2003, an illegal tap installed on the Lanchengyu Pipeline, then
the country's longest oil pipeline, blew off and caused a leak of more than 440
cubic metres of gasoline.
Oil supplies were cut off for about 15 hours and the nearby railway line was
held up for six hours. The spilled gasoline seriously polluted local rivers and
thousands of people had to be evacuated.
Two thieves responsible for the accident were executed for "destroying
facilities that are easily combustible."
But Ma said punishment given to most pipeline thieves was less severe.
"Those who drill pipelines are usually charged with theft and receive prison
sentences of less than 10 years," he said.
"But we're now suggesting they should be charged with destroying facilities
that are easily combustible."
He added that China's Supreme People's Court is drafting related regulations
that would add the death penalty to the list of punishments.
About 23 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities where fuel thefts
are comparatively serious are involved in the ongoing crackdown.
(China Daily 04/01/2006 page2)