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Colombian oil theft on the rise, leaving a path of environmental damage in its wake

The lush canopy encircles a desolate area left by a covert refinery in Colombia’s Pacific jungle, where oil waste blackens everything underfoot, soaking into the soil and coating the vegetation.


The aroma of moist ground and flowers is dominated by the odour of chemicals from stagnant pools – a byproduct of a crude refining process that converts stolen oil from a nearby pipeline into pategrillo, or ‘cricket’s foot’ because to its greenish colour.


The improvised gasoline is used to produce cocaine, which feeds Colombia’s criminal trade. According to national police, the leaves of coca plants are soaked in pategrillo – or other fuels such as gasoline – to extract alkaloid components to manufacture the drug. According to the authorities, it is also used to power heavy machinery in illegal mining activities.


According to U.N. estimates, Colombia’s potential cocaine production has reached record levels, and oil theft is on the rise: the volume stolen from two of Colombia’s major oil pipelines has more than tripled since 2018, to an average of 3,447 barrels per day as of Nov. 30, according to police data.


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