Biodiesel thefts are a new crime

May 20, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It used to be so disgusting and smelly that restaurants had to pay someone to haul it off. Now biodiesel fuel companies are paying them for their used vegetable oil. The competition for it, combined with rising fuel prices, is now creating a new crime.

The waste oil bin at La Pinata restaurant in Alameda usually contains 250 gallons. However on Tuesday when the Blue Sky Biodiesel fuel truck arrived for pick up, it was empty.

"The grease thieving is much worse right now," said Ralph McIntyre from Blue Sky Bio-Fuel.

McIntyre is the owner of the Blue Sky Bio-fuels Refinery in Oakland. He believes the waste oil is being stolen by people who have their own back yard stills or those with converted diesel engines that run off of straight vegetable oil.

"A lot of times they burn it themselves or sell it to their friends," said McIntyre.

This week Blue Sky was unable to make a 4,000 gallon delivery to Bio-fuel Oasis, a filling station in Berkeley, partly because of theft. Owner, Jennifer Radke, says it's because this disgustingly smelly stuff is gaining value.

"Two reasons. One the price of vegetable oil has gone significantly higher, and also there's been a shortage of biodiesel because it was lower than petroleum diesel in price. So more and more people were buying it, there just wasn't enough biodiesel to go around," said Jennifer Radtke, a BioFuel Oases Owner.

McIntyre says most of his thefts are happening in the Berkeley area.

Berkeley police say they have no reports of theft on record, but that's because most restaurant owners don't care who takes the grease.

"It doesn't really matter who takes it as long as they use it for some good, I guess," said Nick Florez, a La Pinata Restaurant Manager.

The restaurants and food manufacturers used to give this stuff away for free, but now Blue Sky pays between 35 and 50 cents a gallon for it. Once it's processed, it goes for $4.89 at the pump.

"This is where the methanol and the methyl oxide come in," said McIntyre.

Over the past year, McIntyre says theft has cost him about $100,000, and that's why he's spending $50,000 dollars to put locks on every one of his waste oil bins.


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