Illegal immigrants stealing oil from Permian basin near Texas border


EXCLUSIVE — Authorities in West Texas have begun to see illegal immigrants aiding criminal networks in the stealing of truckloads of valuable oil and materials from the nation’s largest oilfields in the Permian Basin.

Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), whose district spans 800 miles of the Texas border, organized federal and local law enforcement in the region Friday to come up with a plan of attack as the largest U.S. oilfield, the Permian Basin, continues to get hit by thieves. The matter is not only a border security matter but an energy security problem.

“The bottom line is the border crisis is expanding, and it is morphing into other things, and part of that is you have folks that are Cuban nationals that are kind of settling out in West Texas and in some cases are part of this increase in oil theft,” Gonzales told the Washington Examiner on Friday in a phone interview, who later added that Cuban involvement was “growing.”

Oil theft in the region is no small problem, and the potential for it to destroy oil and gas jobs in the United States is a “very serious, existential threat to our national security,” according to Matt Coday, president and founder of the Oil & Gas Workers Association.

“Truckloads of oil are being stolen from small, independent oil producers. Oilfield instruments, trucks, equipment, and even work boots and clothes have been stolen,” Coday wrote in a message. “These crimes hurt every American and smaller, independent producers especially.”

Winkler County Sheriff Darin Mitchell told reporters at a press conference at the epicenter for the oil theft on Friday that this type of crime had “increased dramatically” in recent months.

Oil is a major industry in West Texas, making theft something that has begun to affect residents, according to Winkler and Crane County District Attorney Amanda Navarette.

“It not only affects big business, but it affects our systems of our counties,” Navarette said during the press conference. “Most of us work in the oil industry or have some kind of ties, and this ultimately affects everybody in our communities.”

Gonzales said oil theft first popped up on his radar as a problem in his district last year. Then, three months ago, he met with sheriffs in West Texas, and “every single one” stated that it was a crime that they were dealing with in their respective counties.

Oil tanker trucks are pulling up to storage tanks and siphoning oil from them, then driving away. Other thieves are taking scrap metal and pipes on site, as well as stealing large quantities of water and dirt, to be sold on the black market.

In addition to stepping up security from oilfield sites, local police and sheriff’s departments learned how to check documents from drivers that they pull over.

Officials from the FBI’s El Paso field office, police chiefs, sheriffs, and a district attorney met in Monahans on Friday as part of a task force to chart a path forward.

“What I’m trying to do is connect all those local law enforcement agencies with this FBI Task Force that sees the overall picture,” Gonzales said.

“If you live there locally, you know it is a real problem, but it’s almost not making it up to the national stage because it’s in a silo, if you will. And I’m trying to break down the silos — local, state, and federal all on the same page,” Gonzales said.

The task force is focused on evolving from a “Whack-a-Mole” approach of every man for himself to sharing information between agencies to help the FBI and federal agencies take down larger factions of the criminal organizations.

Kristofer Quintana, chief of police in Monahans, Texas, said criminal organizations in the region had expanded their portfolios to include oilfield theft in addition to other lucrative activities.

“All of this other criminal activity, it all links together,” Quintana said Friday.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress last month that the FBI had brought in oil field security personnel onto the task force.

“They’re also in human smuggling, and they’re also in drugs, and they’re also in cars,” Gonzales added as a reason for the federal agency to be involved. “These criminal organizations, they’re not like, ‘Oh, hey, we’re only in the oil stealing business.’ They’re in everything. They will steal anything that’s not bolted down and one of those things is oil because it’s lucrative.”

Coday said the Mexican drug cartels had already taken over a sizable amount of Mexico’s oil industry in the past decade.


“We believe Joe Biden’s open borders policies are helping drug cartels take over America’s most prolific oil-producing region now,” Coday said.

Because the problem is relatively new and has not been tracked on a larger scale, Gonzales said he was not able to provide numbers for how many dollars worth of materials have been stolen or what was happening with materials that were stolen.