As the Copper Price Rises so Does the Theft

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Non-ferrous Metals

As copper investors have come back into the market this year, drawn by the rising price from US$1/lb in January to nearly US$3/lb this month so have thieves stealing copper piping, electrical cabling, telecommunications cabling and even whole electrical substations!

Whole districts have been cut off from power, 911 services, tornado warning services, water, even medical facilities as a rash of thefts has sprung up across the country driven by the rising price. The thefts appear committed by organized gangs, as much as opportunistic amateurs, but one growing development is theft to feed drug addiction.

A survey for the Electrical Safety Foundation stated that:

  • 81.4 percent of utility companies were concerned about copper theft;
  • 95.1 percent had experienced copper theft in the past year;
  • 86.6 percent had a process in place to track incidences of copper theft;
  • Over the previous 12-month period, an estimated 50,193 incidences of copper theft occurred;
  • 7,919 of those incidences involved energized equipment;
  • The value of copper material stolen in the 12-month period was an estimated $20,167,738; (including the value of copper material, the impact of the copper thefts from utilities nationwide cost $60,397,818);
  • The number of outages due to copper theft was an estimated 456,210 minutes; 52 injuries nationwide; and 35 deaths.

The complete results of the Electrical Safety Foundation’s 2008 Cooper Theft Baseline Survey of Utilities can be viewed at www.electrical-safety.org.

A Telegraph Newspaper article details examples of frequent results from copper theft. Stretches of highway have been left dark after thieves stole wiring from utility poles. Neighborhoods have gone without electricity due to the theft of wiring from electrical substations, and tornado-warning signals have been rendered inoperable due to wiring being stolen. An unoccupied home exploded due to gas lines being stolen, and thieves continually remove wiring from traffic and railway signals. Thieves have even posed as utility workers in order to remove large sections of thick cable from the sewers beneath city streets.

It would seem a rising copper price doesn’t just cause problems for industrial copper buyers, no wonder our utility bills continue to rise!

–Stuart Burns

Comment (1)

  1. Ian Falconer says:

    In the run up to peak price in 2008 organised copper thefts in the UK got so bad that they were referred to SOCA (the UK’s FBI equivalent). Gangs would raid isolated industrial sites during the weekend and strip the machinery and even buried cables for resale as scrap.
    I was running a quarry in East Anglia when criminals stripped a neighboring competitors processing plant. They (the other quarry) were down for a fortnight and we were very nervous. A sister site of ours a few miles away suffered a similar fate when a gang drove off with 2km of power cable from a conveyor system. The thieves weren’t very sophisticated. They used a axe and a tractor to cut the cable then rip it from the conveyor. They had no way of knowing whether the current had be switched off for the weekend or not.
    We were told in both cases that the police had a strong suspicion who the culprits were but there was no evidence to support prosecution.
    Copper is not easily traced once it gets to the scrap yard, at least not by the coppers.

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