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Fuel Oil Theft [Hardfacts]



Fuel oils such as diesel, (DERV, Gas Oil and 'Red' diesel) and kerosene are stored (usually in open air tanks) at many commercial and domestic premises, either for heating purposes or for re-fuelling vehicles. In the 1st decade of this century very high world prices for fuel oils greatly increased their attraction to thieves, and resulted in a surge in the incidence of theft from all sorts of locations/premises.

Since then, mainly due to prices dropping back due to lower world demand, fuel oil theft has decreased. Nonetheless, criminals have become more alert to the possibilities in this area and theft still occurs, meaning it remains necessary to be on increased alert. With a typical heating oil tank holding approx. £1000* of fuel oil, and storage tanks often being relatively insecure, the attraction to thieves is perhaps clear.

*Based on filling a 2700 litre (600 gallon) tank with kerosene at 0.35p per litre + VAT.

This Hardfacts outlines some measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of theft.

What is at risk?
Fuel oil stored in above ground tanks appears to be the main target for thieves, e.g. various forms of diesel/heating oil. Petrol does not appear to be at such great risk; partly because it is infrequently stored in tanks at commercial/domestic premises, partly because it is more hazardous than other fuels, and also because any such tanks will usually be underground - and thus are relatively inaccessible.

The amount of fuel stolen, and the method by which it is removed, varies greatly. At one end of the scale fuel may be simply decanted or siphoned into containers, but in other cases it is pumped into bulk tanks on criminals' vehicles.

In many cases of theft, tank sight tube gauges, or supply pipes, are cut or smashed and after the thieves have taken what they want any remaining fuel is allowed to run free. This can lead to ground or water course pollution - necessitating clean up and/or action by regulatory authorities - the costs of which may far exceed the monetary value of the fuel lost.

What can be done?
As a precautionary step you should take note of what fuel tanks you have, where they are located, the type and value of their contents and the possible impact of their loss. You can then move on to consider how they currently are, or might better be, protected.

Should any fuel oil be stolen, special consideration needs to be given as to whether it is replaced at all, replaced in smaller quantities or, if replaced like for like, what enhanced security is appropriate. If you don't adopt at least one of these approaches it is likely you will suffer a repeat loss of the same, or greater, magnitude.  

1st Layer - Removing/Reducing Attraction
Thieves can't steal what's not there, so if at all possible consider:

  •     Removal of fuel oil tanks from site, perhaps storing minimal amounts in small barrels or fuel canisters instead.
  •     Reducing the amount of fuel oil held in tanks.

If fuel oil has to be stored, it should be suitably secured. In planning security it can be helpful to think of 'layers' of protection, each layer needing to be overcome by thieves before they achieve their goal. Good security is achieved by having a complementary range of security measures in place at each 'layer' and overall, some examples being outlined below.

2nd Layer - Physical Security
 Hindering access to fuel oil has to be a priority. Security measures to consider include:

  •  Siting fuel oil tanks inside well secured buildings.
  •  Siting fuel oil tanks inside robustly built and well secured compounds/enclosures.
  •  Siting fuel oil tanks clear of perimeter fencing and external access roadways.
  •  As most legitimate fuel oil delivery vehicles have very long filling hoses, installing fixed or removable barriers/posts to prevent thieves' vehicles   (typically with shorter hoses) getting close enough to tanks to use them. In the absence of suitable barriers, park your vehicles such that they hinder vehicle access to tanks.
  • Installing pump controls inside well secured buildings.
  • Isolating and/or locking off electric pump controls.
  • Locking manual tank dispensing nozzles.
  • Locking tank filler/vent caps.

'Hardfacts' 3018: Locks and Lock Standards, provides further advice on locks and padlocks, but if in doubt seek the advice of a competent locksmith, e.g. a member of the Master Locksmiths Association.

3rd Layer - Human Surveillance
Most thieves prefer to operate unseen. In this regard they are often aided by the fact that at commercial premises fuel tanks may be located away from manned areas and/or adjacent to perimeter fencing, and outside normal business hours the site is not manned at all. Similarly, at farms and homes tanks may not be sited close to the living accommodation.

In any event, at premises of any type, fuel oil tanks tend to be 'tucked away' to reduce their visual intrusion.

Security measures to consider include:

  • Relocating tanks to positions where human surveillance is easier.
  • Asking any 'neighbours' who may have better sight of the tanks to keep an eye open for unusual activity, and to immediately inform you or the   police of it.
  • Use of external lighting, operated by timer switches, motion or dusk sensors.
  • Not letting hedges/shrubs grow to a size where they block human surveillance.

4th Layer - Electronic Detection
An intruder alarm is a recognised and generally reliable means of detecting break-ins to buildings, but detecting access to areas around external tanks can be problematic in terms of limiting false alarms. However, it can be achieved by careful design and use of suitable alarm detectors, either linked to stand alone or existing premises alarm systems.

There are a large number of proprietary tank alarm systems now on the market which, whilst fairly basic, are designed to alert owners to things like tank tampering/lid removal or rapidly falling oil levels. As there are no British Standards for such systems, when considering buying one it is a matter of 'buyer beware'. A good maxim for potential buyers is to consider how you might try and overcome such a system, and whether it could either protect against such an attack or reliably alert users to it.

At larger sites, effectively detecting and responding to unauthorised access to areas around external fuel oil tanks is likely to entail use of remotely monitored CCTV.

'Hardfacts' 3015: Intruder Alarms - Guidelines for Purchasers and 'Hardfacts' 3004: CCTV - Guidelines for Purchasers, provide further advice.  

Replacement and Insurance  

Subject to its availability, insurance is one means by which financial recompense for losses may be provided, so:

  •      Ensure that any insurance cover and related sums insured are adequate. 
  •      Ensure any insurer conditions related to premises or fuel tank security are observed.

Anything else?
Aside from security, when considering the type and location of fuel oil tanks fire and pollution matters should also receive attention.

If planning to install a fuel tank inside a building, the fire risk needs to be considered; especially at commercial premises, where there is  often a need to carry out formal fire and other risk assessments, e.g. DSEAR, (Dangerous Substances Explosive Atmosphere Regulations 2002).

Having regard to the risks of ground and water course pollution, the regulations relating to oil storage are strict. They affect both new and existing tanks at all types of premises - above certain specified quantity thresholds. If you are considering any changes to fuel oil tanks, you should take the opportunity to ensure that you are in compliance with the latest regulations governing their type, location, installation and use. The OFTEC website has some useful information on this topic.

'Hardfacts' 7009; Oil Storage (England) and 'Hardfacts' 7010; Oil Storage - Double Walled Tanks, provides further information. 


Any interested property/liability insurer should also be consulted, with their subsequent advice/requirements implemented and maintained.   

Key Action Steps

  • Ascertain what fuel oil you have, its value and the risk of pollution in the event of theft and related possible spillage

  • Review your current security arrangements and consider enhancements

  • Seek independent crime prevention advice, e.g. from the police/insurers

  • Source security devices and systems from reputable suppliers/contractors

  • Review security in the event of any loss

  • Ensure your tanks comply with relevant fire, safety and environmental regulations

Sources of Further Information

Other Hardfacts in the Property Protection - Security series, which are available in our 'Knowledge Store' at

Hardfacts 2005 - Storage of Flammable Liquids and Gases (DSEAR)

ATG (Vehicle Security Posts), Tel 01942 685522 or visit

Master Locksmiths Association (MLA). Tel 01327 262255/264687 or visit

Oil Firing Techical Association (OFTEC) see

National Security Inspectorate (NSI). Tel 01628 637512 or

Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB). Tel 0191 296 3242 or

Next Steps:

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    Please Note
    This document contains general information and guidance and is not and should not be relied on as specific advice. The document may not cover every risk, exposure or hazard that may arise and Aviva recommend that you obtain specific advice relevant to the circumstances. AVIVA accepts no responsibility or liability towards any person who may rely upon this document.


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