Theft of heating and diesel oil has been a problem for many years and the police have always noticed an increase in this type of crime whenever the price of crude oil rises. A rise in the price of fuel at the petrol pump inevitably leads to a rise in the cost of heating oil. This makes oil a more attractive proposition for the thief and they are now actively targeting fuel tanks at farms, transport depots and domestic properties. The thief may be using the oil for their own central heating or selling it on at a handsome profit. With hand power tools and small mobile pumps available it is easy for a thief to gain entry into your oil tank via either the point for filling or by simply drilling a hole through your tank side and inserting a tube and pumping the oil directly into containers. A one thousand litre tank can be emptied in minutes in this manner making your heating oil a valuable commodity to a thief in his daily ‘work’.
It therefore makes good sense to take precautions to protect your oil tank, with the purpose of this information to give the reader a few ideas about what can be done to make life more difficult for the thief. After all, would you leave over £600.00 in cash lying around in your garden? So please, read on.
About the Tank
OFTEC or the “Oil Firing Technical Association for the petroleum industry” for short offers advice and guidance for those who use and store oil at their premises! There are certain rules and regulations that may apply to you and OFTEC will help clarify these for you. They can be reached at www.oftec.org.uk or by calling 0845 6585 080. They also produce an “Easy guide to domestic oil storage” which is a very straightforward and useful document.
Where can we put it?
The position of the tank can have a significant effect on how hard a target it is in the eyes of the thief. If the tank is close to the house, with one or more windows capable of giving a view of it, then the thief may consider the chances of being seen too high. If the tank is close to a road, path, drive or alleyway then it will be a far easier target. Hiding the tank behind the garage, shed or some other type of outbuilding is fairly commonplace, but it does give the thief the advantage. Not many oil tanks are works of art so who wants a tank in full view? While it may not be desirable, or legal, to have the tank close to the house some sort of compromise location would be sensible. Of course this will not only be a major consideration when a new tank is to be installed but may be necessary if the tank has been targeted before! They do need to be within a reasonable distance of the road otherwise the oil supply company may not be able to refill it for you.
A good thief will come equipped with a limited range of tools to attack your tank so it’s worth spending a little more on good quality locks. Close shackle padlocks are the best as they offer most resistance to the most popular of burglar tools – the bolt cropper! Due to their design, close shackle padlocks have very little of the metal hoop (shackle) exposed and bolt croppers cannot get a good grip. Remember that buying a padlock is like buying a car the more you pay the better the quality you get and the longer it will last. An internet search on ‘close shackle padlock’ will provide numerous suppliers and products and are also available at DIY and most hardware stores.
Remote electronic oil level gauges are now available which will set off an audible alarm if the oil level in the tank suddenly drops or falls below a quarter full. These gauges can be located in the kitchen or perhaps a utility room to warn of any potential problem. There are several different versions on the market at the moment and cost between £70 and £100. An internet search on ‘heating oil tank alarm’ will give access to a variety of products and suppliers. External PIR alarms are available in both professional and DIY models. These may be positioned to cover the area where your oil tank is sited and alert you to intruders to that area. Be aware that some systems will be affected by small animals, with the neighbours cat or the passing fox being possible culprits. So please ask questions relating to the sensitivity of your intended purchase. Search for ‘external alarms’.
Security lights can have a very positive effect and make any property a much harder target for the thief. It’s not always necessary to floodlight the area with high power beams, as a more subtle level of lighting may be all that is needed. Low energy “dusk ‘til dawn” lights positioned close to the tank should, in most cases, provide sufficient light to illuminate any suspicious activity. This type of light can be both effective and inexpensive. High powered lights can be used but care should be taken not to cause any nuisance to neighbours or road users. All such items are available from DIY stores at very reasonable prices.
This is nature’s way of helping to reduce crime. Thieves will not wish to force their way through or over a prickly hedge. The smallest trace of blood or shred of ripped clothing could help the police identify the offender. A variety of shrubbery exists that will help to give this type of protection, but remember it will take time to establish and should be considered as a secondary protection. All good garden centres will be happy to advise on the quickest growing and most suitable plants for use in this area.
Fences and walls can also make life difficult for the thief. A wooden or metal fence, trellis or wall can give significant protection to the tank but it must be remembered that the oil tanker driver will need access to fill the tank! A metal grill or cage with a lockable access point can further improve security and possibly be the highest level of physical protection you can give to your oil tank. Steel cages are available for other purposes but they have yet to be specific to oil tank design, due to the variants in oil tank sizes. To this end you would require to look for a cage that would completely cover your tank. The cage would need to be able to be bolted/concreted into the ground and consist of a lockable door, to enable entry for filling. An internet search on ‘security cages’ gives access to retailers providing lockable cages with roof sections. Whilst a surround cage may give ultimate protection it will be one of the most costly outlays for preventing theft from your tank, but the cost of replacing a full oil tank would still be far greater. Remember to use a ‘close shackle’ padlock to secure your cage access gate.
Add a wire free beam alarm within the cage, which will activate should access be forced and a would-be thief may be scared off prior to getting to attack your oil tank. By placing this type of alarm within a caged area and correctly positioning the beam it would be possible to prevent false activations normally associated with small animals. Look up wire free external alarms.
The use of CCTV as a crime prevention and a crime detection tool has grown massively in recent years. It could play a part in the protection of oil tanks, but before you spend lots of money on equipment make an assessment of your needs. Ask yourself:
- What do I hope to achieve by using CCTV?
- How much am I prepared to spend?
- Is there a reasonable level of light where the cameras will be operating or do I need to think about using cameras with low light capability? (most thefts take place at night).
- What am I going to record the captured images on? – digital recording is best
- How am I going to provide the police with any evidence I may capture?
For those of you thinking along the lines of far greater security there are numerous CCTV options, for which we would suggest obtaining at least 3 quotations from reliable companies.
The objective of making adjustments relating to your heating oil tank is to prevent you from becoming a victim of crime. Whilst all of these measures will require some financial outlay it may be more pertinent to make the necessary changes now rather than take the chance, become a statistic and still have to pay out for more oil, repair / replacement of your tank or in the extreme case, foot the cost of cleaning up your land where oil has been left to drain after thieves drilled a hole into your tank!
Unfortunately there is no one answer to the theft of domestic heating oil, but rest assured, the more you do to prevent your oil tank from becoming a target, the better chance you have of encouraging the thief to look elsewhere for easier pickings.