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Oklahoma a target of oil field thieves

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lawmakers want to beef up security to prevent thefts at Oklahoma's oil and gas fields, but some producers say more security may not be enough.

With 125,000 producing oil and gas wells, Oklahoma remains fertile ground for oil-field equipment thieves who fence stolen goods internationally. It's not known exactly how much the problem costs operators, but a single drill bit can net a thief as much as $8,000.

State Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, wants to reduce triple the amount of investigators to cut down on equipment and crude oil thefts.

But Democrats question where the state would get the money to pay the salaries of two additional Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents.

Perry said more investigators would deter thefts, which in turn would boost Oklahoma's gross production tax revenues. That would produce the funds for the additional positions, he said.

``If we do this right, it could be a revenue-generating situation for us,'' Perry said.

Perry's bill made it out of the House's Appropriations and Budget Committee and will be heard by the full House in the next few weeks.

The OSBI has one full-time agent and a part-time agent to investigate oil field reports for all of Oklahoma, Perry said.

Drilling bits, flow meters and high-pressure valves are all desirable, but thieves will take anything, agent Bob Terhune said.

``If it's a goose in the oil patch, they will steal it,'' Terhune said. ``Most of these items are something you just can't hock down at the local pawn shop.

``You have to know where to sell them, and there are groups of people running across the country who deal in questionable drilling bits and other supplies.''

Terhune's work led to the local recovery of stolen Venezuelan drill bits in Oklahoma not long ago.

Larry Fiddler, director of the oil and gas division for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, said equipment isn't the only thing stolen from well sites.

``It has to do with the theft of crude oil as much as with stolen equipment,'' Fiddler said.

The equipment, he said, is vulnerable because it often lacks identification markings, but oil can't be traced.

Terhune said it can take longer sometimes to put an oil field theft case together than it does to work a homicide.

``The paper trail can kill a forest of trees, sometimes. Many of these thieves are very intelligent. They aren't just the local thief out of the beer joint.''

Mickey Thompson, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said members often complain about oil thefts.

Thompson said petroleum producers know it is overly optimistic to expect that one or even three agents could investigate all the oil field theft crimes in Oklahoma.

He said his organization has considered using certified private investigators to work thefts, just as the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association does.

Thompson said improving funding and training for local law enforcement officers would be a good solution.
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