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Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

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A Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

A Crude Awakening: The Global Black Market for Oil

The value of the crude oil production alone is worth a staggering $1.7 trillion each year. Add downstream fuels and other services to that, and oil is a money-making machine.

Both companies and governments take advantage of this resource wealth. More of the world’s largest companies work in the oil patch than any other industry. At the same, entire government regimes are kept intact thanks to oil revenues.

The only problem when an industry becomes this lucrative?

Eventually, everybody wants a piece of the pie – and they’ll do anything to get their share.

The Black Market in Fuel Theft

Today’s infographic comes from Eurocontrol Technics Group, and it highlights the global problem of fuel theft.

While pipeline theft in places like Nigeria and Mexico are the most famous images associated with the theft of hydrocarbons, the problem is actually far more broad and systematic in nature.

Fuel theft impacts operations at the upstream, midstream, and downstream levels, and it is so entrenched that even politicians, military personnel, and police are complicit in illegal activities. Sometimes, involvement can be traced all the way up to top government officials.

E&Y estimates this to be a $133 billion issue, but it’s also likely that numbers around fuel theft are understated due to deep-rooted corruption and government involvement.

How Fuel Theft Actually Happens

Billions of dollars per year of government and corporate revenues are lost due to the following activities:

Tapping Pipelines: By installing illicit taps, thieves can divert oil or other refined products from pipelines. Mexican drug gangs, for example, can earn $90,000 in just seven minutes from illegal pipeline tapping.

Illegal Bunkering: Oil acquired by thieves is pumped to small barges, which are then sent to sea to deliver the product to tankers. In Nigeria, for example, the Niger Delta’s infamous labyrinth of creeks is the perfect place for bunkering to go undetected.

Ship-to-Ship Transfers:
This involves the transfer of illegal fuel to a more reputable ship, which can be passed off as legitimate imports. For example, refined crude from Libya gets transferred from ship-to-ship in the middle of the Mediterranean, to be illegally imported into the EU.

Armed Theft (Piracy):
This involves using the threat of violence to command a truck or ship and steal its cargo. Even though Hollywood has made Somalia famous for its pirates, it is the Gulf of Guinea near Nigeria that ships need to be worried about. In the last few years, there have been hundreds of attacks.

Bribing Corrupt Officials:
In some countries – as long as the right person gets a cut of profits, authorities will turn a blind eye to hydrocarbon theft. In fact, E&Y says an astonishing 57.1% of all fraud in the oil an gas sector relates to corruption schemes.

Smuggling and Laundering:
Smuggling oil products into another jurisdiction can help to enable a profitable and less traceable sale. ISIS is famous for this – they can’t sell oil to international markets directly, so they smuggle oil to Turkey, where it sells it at a discount.

Adulteration:
Adulteration is a sneaky process in which unwanted additives are put in oil or refined products, but sold at full price. In Tanzania, for example, adding cheap kerosene and lubricants to gasoline or diesel is an easy way to increase profit margins, while remaining undetected.

The Implications of Fuel Theft

The impact of fuel theft on people and the economy is significant and wide-ranging:

Loss of corporate profits: Companies in oil and gas can lose billions of dollars from fuel theft. Case in point: Mexico’s national oil company (Pemex) is estimated to lose $1.3 billion per year as a result of illegal pipeline tapping by gangs.

Loss of government revenues: Governments receive royalties from oil production, as well as tax money from finished products like gasoline. In Ireland, the government claims it loses €150 to €250 million in revenues per year from fuel adulteration. Meanwhile, one World Bank official pegged the Nigerian government’s total losses from oil revenues stolen (or misspent) at $400 billion since 1960.

Funds terrorism: ISIS and other terrorist groups have used hydrocarbon theft and sales as a means to sustain operations. At one point, ISIS was making $50 million per month from selling oil.

Funds cartels and organized crime: The Zetas cartel in Mexico controls nearly 40% of the fuel theft market, raking in millions each year.

Environmental damage: Not only does fuel theft cost corporations and governments severely, but there is also an environmental impact to be considered. Fuel spills, blown pipelines, and engine damage (from adulterated fuel) are all huge issues.

Leads to higher gas prices: Unfortunately, all of the above losses eventually translate into higher prices for end-customers.

How to Stop Fuel Theft?

There are two methods that authorities have been using to slow down and eventually eliminate fuel theft.

Fuel dyes are used to color petroleum products a specific tint, so as to allow for easy identification and prevent fraud. However, some dyes can be replicated by criminals – such as those in Ireland who “launder” the fuel.

Molecular markers, which are used in tiny concentrations of just a few parts per million, are invisible and can also be used to identify fuels.

In Tanzania, the initiation of a fuel marking program using molecular markers led to significant increases of imported petrol and diesel for the local market, and a decrease of kerosene.

At the retail level, product meeting quality standards increased from 19% in 2007 to 91% in 2013. Ultimately, this resulted in an increase of tax revenue of $300 million between 2010 and 2014.

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Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

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A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

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