Surrey and Maple Ridge are tied for the most cases of natural gas theft in the province, but FortisBC hopes a new collaboration with CrimeStoppers will help curb the trend.
Both municipalities had three incidents reported in 2012. However, the natural gas provider believes the actual number of thefts is much higher.
Figures for 2013 were not available.
“We identified three incidents, but suspect there are more,” said spokesperson Grace Pickell.
“That’s why we are so excited about this collaboration with CrimeStoppers because it’s really going to add to the number at tips we have available to us and speed up investigations.”
FortisBC provides natural gas to approximately 956,000 customers across British Columbia, with 68 per cent of reported thefts concentrated in the Lower Mainland.
Police believe the majority of the thefts are tied to illegal marijuana grow operations or drug labs.
Last year, Langley RCMP found a natural-gas bypass that fueled an underground grow-op.
Although FortisBC would not specify how the thefts take place, stealing natural gas can be as simple as breaking into a locked meter and flipping a switch, or as complicated as digging the ground and tapping into lines before they reach a meter.
CrimeStoppers is now sharing anonymous information related to energy theft directly with the province’s largest utilities – FortisBC and B.C. Hydro – in addition to law enforcement.
CrimeStoppers will only give FortisBC and B.C. Hydro the portion of an anonymous tip that will help their inspectors pinpoint the location of where there may be energy theft.
“For the average citizen, energy theft or power diversion is almost impossible to detect,” said Rick Ekkel, president of B.C. CrimeStoppers. “What is usually reported to CrimeStoppers is the probable indicators of an illegal marijuana grow operation or a drug lab. These illegal operations often involve theft of energy bypasses that are a major danger to the public and utility employees.”
FortisBC owns the infrastructure leading up to the home or property so the company reminds homeowners that its investigators have the right to visit private property to determine if there is an illegal bypass.
“We have many tools in our box to investigate energy theft and this is just one of them,” Pickell added.
Stealing natural gas can be extremely dangerous as well.
“As it is with any utility, taking it illegal poses a risk to yourself and other,” said Pickell.
“Natural gas is a safe energy source but when there are untrained people doing illegal activities, there is potential for a fire or other things to occur.”
FortisBC relies on the public to be their eyes and ears on the ground and contact them as soon as they smell natural gas, which has a sulfuric, rotten egg odour.
“Energy theft is a significant problem in B.C. It increases customer costs and is a major safety concern for the general public and our employees,” said Tom Loski, vice-president, customer service at FortisBC. “This collaboration will give the public more tools and allow us greater access to more timely information so we can better identify and investigate possible instances of energy theft.”
• If energy theft is suspected, call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS to leave an anonymous tip. Tipsters do not have to identify themselves or testify in court. To report a gas leak, call 1-800-663-9911.
– by Monisha Martins