Colombian Police Seize 7.3 Million Gallons of Crude Stolen from Pipelines in Raids on Illegal Refineries

(Reuters) — Colombian police have seized more than seven million gallons of crude oil in raids on illegal refineries, in an operation targeting production of bootleg fuel in Norte de Santander province, the police said in a statement on Monday.

The fuel is refined from crude oil stolen from pipelines by criminal gangs and is a key ingredient in cocaine production. It can also be mixed with gasoline or diesel and used to run machinery at illegal mining operations, police say.

"The national police are committed to safeguarding nature, understanding it's an invaluable resource for society, and the fight against organized crime," Colonel William Castano, director of Colombia's rural Carabineros police force, said in the statement.

The operation took place in Tibu, an area in Norte de Santander close to Colombia's border with Venezuela.

Police also took control of 13 pools used for storing hydrocarbons; seized five makeshift refineries, 17 pieces of refining equipment and 4,250 gallons of refined hydrocarbons, the statement added.

The production of the bootleg fuel - known as pategrillo, or cricket's foot, due to its greenish hue - is a major problem in Colombia, where thousands of barrels of oil are stolen each day.

Reuters visited illegal refineries in Colombia's Pacific region in 2022. At the time, Castano said such refineries contaminate an average of three square kilometers of the surrounding environment, citing a police estimate.

Reuters was unable to determine on what that estimate was based.

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