Aboveground tanks now targeted by drug makers


“With the price of gas and diesel fuel going up, some people are now a little bit more apt to help themselves to your fuel tanks.”

Fred Whitford

Purdue Pesticide Programs coordinator

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Anhydrous ammonia tanks have become favorite targets of methamphetamine makers, costing farmers thousands of dollars in stolen nitrogen fertilizer.

Thieves are now turning their attention to another chemical container: the aboveground petroleum tank, said a Purdue University Extension specialist.

“With the price of gas and diesel fuel going up, some people are now a little bit more apt to help themselves to your fuel tanks,” said Fred Whitford, coordinator of Purdue Pesticide Programs.

“When that happens, you’re lucky if all you lose is the gas or diesel, because all you’ve lost is the money for that fuel.


“The real problem is when these thieves and vandals have the power to the tank on, put what they need into their truck and then let the rest run onto the ground. Now you’ve not only lost a product, but you’ve also got soil contamination.”

Farmers can learn how to safeguard fuel tanks, select the right tank for a farm, handle fuel spills and related issues in the just-released Purdue Extension publication, Aboveground Petroleum Tanks.

The publication is available in print and online versions. Whitford is the publication’s lead author.

Fuel tanks vary in size, with most holding 500 gallons or more. For years, many farmers stored fuel below ground. Because they were not visible, the underground tanks provided natural security from thieves and vandals.

Above ground

When some underground tanks began to leak and create environmental problems, stricter federal regulations governing the construction and use of buried fuel tanks were introduced. Most farmers abandoned the underground tanks and started storing fuel above ground.

As fuel prices topped $3 a gallon, petroleum thefts increased, Whitford said. Aboveground Petroleum Tanks outlines security measures farmers can take to discourage fuel thieves.

“You can install lights around the tank and put locks on the tank,” Whitford said.

“At nighttime, you can turn the electricity off to your tank. You can even turn the circuits off from inside your barn or farm building. Some people have even gone so far as to put up security cameras.”


The 110-page publication is loaded with illustrations. More than 230 photos show examples of both proper and improper fuel tank practices. The photos come from 15 years of Whitford’s travels to commercial businesses and farms.

“One important thing you need to do is have a tank in the right place, so that if a spill takes place, fuel does not get into surface water,” he said.

“Secondly, do everything you can, within reason, to keep the area clean. Third, do a little security to at least make it more difficult for a person to cause you harm. Then lastly, you want to prepare for an emergency. Most of our insurance policies will not cover cleaning up contamination. So if you had a fuel spill, the cleanup would come out of your pocket.”

More information

The fuel tank guide — Purdue Extension publication PPP-73 — can be ordered for $1 plus shipping and handling by calling the toll-free Purdue Extension hotline at 888-398-4636 or by e-mail at media.order@purdue.edu.

The publication also can downloaded free online.

For more information, contact Whitford at 765-494-1284 or by e-mail at fwhitford@purdue.edu.


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