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Local sheriff’s agencies weigh in on reported oilfield thefts in the Bakken

As oil prices stay low, active rigs continue to drop off the landscape and many oilfield workers find themselves out of a job nationally, theft of equipment and materials is becoming common in some U.S. oil regions.

As oil prices stay low, active rigs continue to drop off the landscape and many oilfield workers find themselves out of a job nationally, theft of equipment and materials is becoming common in some U.S. oil regions.

However, Bakken law enforcement agencies’ reports of prevalence in oilfield theft since the slowdown are more mixed.

Det. Sgt. Korey Lass of the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Office in Watford City said he’s noticed a significant rise in reported thefts in the local industry.

“It is becoming a pretty big issue for us,” he said.

A lot of hand tools come up missing, he said. People also strip copper wiring from structures to scrap. Heavier equipment, like excavators, also are stolen.

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According to Lass, these amount to “tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars” worth of stolen property.

In early November, a story published on Bloomberg’s business website reported that thefts in the Texas oilfields had become a serious issue since the downturn in the industry, with many laid-off workers resorting to stealing company property.

The story focused on reported incidents in Texas and other states in the south. It quoted an estimate from the Energy Security Council, an industry trade group in Houston, which stated there had been nearly $1 billion in oilfield theft losses in 2013, a number that has likely increased since then. There are even instances there of oil being siphoned out of wells and sold on a sort of black market, the story stated.

Dunn County Sheriff Clay Coker, however, said he hasn’t seen much of an uptick in oil-industry crime.

The sheriff’s office in Manning is notified of oilfields thefts from time to time, he said, but there has been no noticeable increase in thefts of oil company property in the past year.

The number of such calls remain minor compared to other types of theft reported in the county, Coker explained.

“It’s not a majority of our thefts,” he said.

Chief Deputy Verlan Kvande of the Williams County Sheriff’s Office in Williston gave a similar report, saying reports of thefts in the oil industry to his office have remained pretty consistent to pre-slowdown times.

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“We do have it happen periodically,” Kvande said.

There have been reports in the past of missing front-end loaders or Bobcat skid-steers, along with smaller equipment like drill pipes. Valves are valuable items to steal as well, he said.

In spite of all this, Kvande said it doesn’t amount to a lot of calls the office receives.

“I think we get very few reports,” he said.

Kvande said one of the reasons such thefts might not be reported often is that oil companies tend to write off losses without alerting authorities. He also said much the smaller items that are stolen are hard to track and recover.

“The challenging thing about a lot of these types of items is that they’re not marked well and identified well,” he said

Thefts correlating with the economic downturn are more visible away of the oilfield in his county, Kvande said.

He said there is a “definite spiked increase” in reports of personal property thefts in Williams County.

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Related Topics: DUNN COUNTY
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