FUEL STORE SECURITY
With diesel prices still around record levels, farm fuel tanks remain under threat from thieves looking to cash-in on lax security. With the cost of diesel unlikely to fall enough to deter criminals from taking your fuel, Graeme Kirk looks at some of the ways to minimise the chances of falling victim to this nationwide problem.
Theft of diesel from farms has been around for many years, but recent huge rises in fuel prices have increased the problem to epidemic levels. NFU Mutual’s 2011 Rural Crime Survey revealed that thefts of diesel and heating oil were 264% higher in January this year than the same month in 2010, while at a national level oil and diesel now rank third in the list of items most targeted by thieves after power tools and quad bikes.
Diesel is relatively easy to move around and there is no shortage of buyers for cheap fuel with ‘no questions asked’. This means criminals are willing to take some risks for a quick return, but they can still be put off by some reasonably simple security measures.
Police forces around the UK have been quick to recognise this growing problem and some, like Gloucestershire Constabulary, have published leaflets containing common-sense advice on reducing the chances of your fuel being stolen.
The first issue highlighted by the county’s police force is where the tank is situated. Clearly 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 a house, with one or more windows overlooking it, then the thief may consider the chances of being seen are too high.
If the tank is close to a road, path, drive or alleyway, then it will be a far easier target. There’s a strong argument for putting the tank well out of site, but you have to consider if this approach will actually making the thief’s job easier if they do discover where your fuel is being stored.
Clearly a balance has to be reached. You don’t want the tanks to be so obvious that anyone who drives past the farmyard can see them sitting there, but again the chosen site must have easy access for fuel deliveries.
Fences and walls can also make life difficult for fuel thieves. A wooden or metal fence, trellis or wall can give significant protection to the tank, but you must remember that the tanker driver will need access to fill the tank! A metal grille or cage with a lockable access point across the top of your wall or fence can further improve security.
Of course there’s a cost attached to making your tank more secure in this way, but it could well be less that the price of one tank full of oil and the security benefits should last for many years.
A similar approach to building a wall, according to Gloucestershire Constabulary, is creating a natural barrier with plants or shrubs. Defensive planting is nature’s way of helping to reduce crime as thieves will not want to force their way through or over a prickly hedge. It’s not only the discomfort of getting tangled up in the greenery that puts the them off; they recognise that even the smallest trace of blood or shred of ripped clothing could help the police identify the offender.
There are also practical steps you can take to make the job of the fuel thief harder. First, it’s a good idea to isolate the power from the tank when it’s not in use. This simple step, which could be as simple as putting a control switch for the pump inside the farm office or workshop, will ensure the thief can’t just pump the stolen fuel straight into waiting drums.
And while on the subject of oil drums, don’t leave empty containers lying around near your fuel tank where an opportunistic thief might decide to help himself to the diesel.
According to Gloucestershire Constabulary, a competent thief will arrive equipped with a range of tools to attack your tank. It’s worth, therefore, spending a little more on good quality locks. Close shackle padlocks, for example, 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 can’t get a good grip.
Security lights can have a very positive effect and will 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 to deter criminals. Low-energy dusk ’til dawn lights positioned close to the tank should, in most cases, provide sufficient light to illuminate any suspicious activity, and this type of light can be both effective and inexpensive.
More advanced ways of protecting your fuel included remote electronic oil level gauges that will set off an audible alarm if the oil level in the tank suddenly drops, or falls below a quarter full. Mostly supplied in two parts, the fuel level sensor is fitted to the diesel tank while the alarm is kept in the house.
For situations where there are especially large amounts of fuel to protect, and maybe a fleet of modern machinery that might attract the attention of thieves, closed-circuit television (CCTV) can be useful as a crime prevention and crime detection tool. These systems can be costly, but they could also have an important role to play in farmyard security.
Fuel tank manufacturers and suppliers also recognise that they have a role to play in helping reduce theft from their products. Earlier this year, Harlequin Oil Tanks from Moira, Co. Armagh teamed up with the West Oxfordshire Community Safety Partnership to promote the importance of taking measures to prevent crime in rural areas.
“We have introduced a range of security features on our full range of bunded oil tanks and bunded diesel tanks that make them among the most secure on the market,” says Harlequin Oil Tanks area sales manager Paul Molle. “Quite often the contents of a tank are more valuable than the tank itself, so we realise the importance of making our products as safe and secure as possible for our customers.
“All Harlequin oil tanks and diesel tanks are now available with the option of a Spinsecure lock for the tank manhole lid or door, as well as a Yale Alarm Lock, which can be fitted to the tank’s fill and inspection points and will sound a 100 decibel alarm in the event of the lock being disturbed. An optional motion sensor will also provide an audible alert in the event of the tank experiencing movement of any kind.”
Operating from purpose-built production and distribution facilities in the heart of Northern Ireland, the Harlequin tank range is produced by Clarehill Plastics Ltd, who pioneered the development of rotationally moulded plastic storage tanks in 1981.
Harlequin distributors include Tanks’R’Us, a division of W. H. Dale Ltd of Thornton Curtis, Lincolnshire, who sell both plastic and steel diesel tanks to customers nationwide.
“Our experience in the diesel tank market has shown that plastic tanks are not for everyone, but if you can site it in a secure location, the Harlequin tanks are as good as they get,” Jago Chapman of Tank’R’Us says. “While most manufacturers go for a wall thickness that meets the industry standard of 4.3mm, Harlequin’s tanks feature walls 6.3mm thick.”
Of course that doesn’t make the tanks indestructible, and Mr Chapman adds that positioning plastic tanks in a farmyard setting can put them at risk from damage from collisions with farm machinery and theft.
“A plastic tank is much easier to pierce than a steel tank, whether accidentally or not, but that’s not to say there isn’t still a place for them,” he says. “If you can site your plastic tank out of sight inside a reasonably secure building, then it’s an ideal solution for diesel storage.”
More and more buyers are now putting their steel and plastic fuel tanks indoors and as a result the company has recently started supplying longer diesel delivery pipes.
“The standard hoses we supply are 4m long, but we can now supply lengths up to 14m,” Mr Chapman says. “That not only reflects the buyers placing the tanks more securely, but also the fact that it can be harder to reach the fuel tanks on today’s larger machinery.”
Most of the tanks sold by Tanks’R’Us these days are made of steel, suggesting the market has almost come through a complete circle.
“Not that long ago all diesel tanks were made of steel, but then plastic tanks were introduced and they dominated the market,” says Mr Chapman. “Now security fears are resulting in steel tanks becoming the preferred option for many buyers once again.”
Tanks’R’Us offers the full range of steel tanks from Heysham, Lancashire-based Fuel Proof Ltd. They make the strong, double-skinned tanks with secure dispensing equipment, inlets and outlets that are essential for above-ground installations.
The company’s latest 10,000-litre bunded diesel tank features a host of improvements that make it the toughest and most secure tank they’ve ever produced. Features include side protector bars, internal door hinges, a heavy-duty locking bolt and a steel cover to protect the lock used to keep access to the dispensing equipment securely shut.
For those that need the ultimate in fuel security, Tanks’R’Us can also supply a plastic fuel tank sitting within a steel bund inside a shipping container in sizes up to 10,000 litres, while the latest innovation from the firm is a custom-built bunded steel tank that’s made-to-measure to customers’ requirements.
“If a farmer has a suitable space in his tractor shed or workshop, we can build a bespoke tank to make best use of it,” says Jago Chapman. “One of the best security measures is keeping the tank out of sight, and if you have space in a secure building that could be used for storing diesel, we can produce a tank to fill it.”
FUEL TANK TIPS
• Don’t site tanks where they can easily be seen from the road or public tracks.
• Placing a tank where it is overlooked by a house may deter thieves.
• Isolate power from fuel dispensing equipment when it is not being used.
• Use good quality locks that can’t be easily broken by theives.
• Security lighting may deter thieves from targeting your diesel.
• Remote alarms that monitor the fuel level can alert you to diesel theft.
• CCTV can help prevent and detect fuel theft.
Traditionally, most farm fuel tanks were located in the most convenient position in the yard, but with fuel theft on the increase, sitting a tank or tanks so they are less visible and accessible to would-be thieves has become more of a priority.
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