COLUMN: Gas theft has become a serious problem

Surrey van explosion shines light on black-market fuel sales

An incident on Sunday involving a van full of purloined gasoline should be of great concern to fire and police departments, and citizens in general.

In this case, a van hit a pickup truck at Scott Road and 104 Avenue, headed off and burst into flames a couple of blocks away, at 122 Street and 104 Avenue.

The incident is the first of its type for Surrey RCMP, but it is not the first such incident. Two other similar crashes and explosions took place in Vancouver and Coquitlam in the past two months.

As most people know, gasoline is a highly flammable and explosive substance.

Just a few litres can create a fireball, so a van filled with large tanks of gasoline, which has been stolen and is being offered for resale, is not dissimilar to the vehicles used in suicide bombings in other regions of the world.

Gasoline theft has been a problem for years, but mainly on a smaller scale.

Apparently these thieves are using stolen credit cards to buy large quantities of gasoline, fill tanks hidden in vans, and then sell it to people at a discount from the pump price.

Those eager to get a bargain, without thinking of the consequences of letting these people do business this way, are quick to buy.

High gas prices cause people to do a lot of strange things. Many of the initial cross-border trips taken by residents in this area come about to save money on gasoline, as the price is substantially lower in the U.S.

The main factor in the price differential is taxes levied on this side of the border, with the 17-cent TransLink tax and the provincial carbon tax being the two biggest contributors to the higher prices.

I’ve often wondered why people would drive or sit in line for several hours just to get lower-priced gas, but many people time their trips so that they cross when lineups are minimal.

Others make good use of their Nexus cards, which are definitely an added incentive for cross-border shopping.

But while cross-border shopping is an obvious choice for many when it comes to getting lower-priced gasoline, buying it on the black market from a van driver seems highly risky and downright dangerous. Who’s to say that there won’t be a spill or fire when the van driver is helping a local to fill up?

Gas stations have to follow a lot of safety rules for very good reasons, and one of the most obvious safety measures they can implement is the ability to shut off the supply of gasoline if a fire or spill does occur.

If gasoline theft is this prominent, and it seems that it is, people need to take precautions when they have tanks of gasoline or diesel fuel at their businesses. These are obviously targets for these type of thieves.

In addition, people with larger vehicles that have larger fuel tanks need to ensure that it is very difficult to steal gas from parked vehicles. While a locking gas cap is an obvious precaution, it isn’t always enough for sophisticated thieves, who have been known to drill into gas tanks (which also is a very hazardous behaviour) to steal fuel.

In the meantime, people who have suspicions about vans which appear to be delivering gasoline on the street or in alleys should let police know right away.

They may be preventing a much worse explosion from taking place.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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