Working Paper
Global oil theft: impact and policy responses

This paper, the first of two on global oil theft and fraud, discusses the prevalence, methods, and consequences of global oil theft, valued at US$133 billion per year and equivalent to 5–7 per cent of the global market for crude oil and petroleum fuels.

However, the impact of oil theft is significantly larger than the value of theft itself. Government tax yields have been assessed for 30 developing countries associated with oil theft and found to be significantly lower than in the International Monetary Fund’s benchmark study.

Oil theft, smuggling, and illicit trade in petroleum products are often seen as lesser forms of crime than human trafficking, the drugs trade, smuggling of weapons, kidnapping, and terrorism. However, oil theft as an act of opportunity tends to evolve into organized crime and, if left unchecked, oil theft may interlink with other organized crime activities and groups.

Actions against oil theft should target the transnational crime syndicates that continue to find ways to replicate their thefts by adapting their theft strategies and business models. However, there is a lack of basic data, including how much oil is stolen, how the stolen oil is transported, and how illicit oil transactions are conducted. The mixing of legal commercial operations with illegal oil theft activities and fraud obscures many oil theft crimes.