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China threatens death for people who steal oil

Written by: Staff
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BEIJING, Mar 31 (Reuters) China, the world's second largest oil consumer, today threatened to execute people who steal from fuel pipelines as the country grapples with global crude prices that climbed to a record 70 dollar a barrel last year.

China arrested nearly 3,000 people last year for stealing oil in crimes which cost the industry more than 1 billion yuan (124.6 million dollar) and caused the economy untold damage, police officials told a news briefing.

''Oil issues in a large, developing country like ours with relatively few of its own reserves, impact upon national security, social stability and the economy's sustainable, fast and healthy development,'' said Ma Weiya, vice director of the police's social security management department.

''Criminal punishments will be meted out, including the death penalty, as stealing oil in some areas has reached such a serious level it has wrecked production facilities,'' Ma said.

''The highest penalty for destroying facilities that are easily combustible is death, because it threatens public safety,'' he added.

Though police said the number of cases involving oil theft or illegal drilling had fallen, they were still concerned that many incidents were going unnoticed in China's vast countryside, home to some 700 million people.

''They put huts up and drill into pipes underneath,'' Ma said. ''Many we don't find.'' The temptation is that much greater due to soaring global crude oil prices, he added, and hard to resist for peasants who earn a third as much as their urban cousins.

''The reason they steal oil is to sell it, and as prices are so high that encourages stealing,'' Ma said.

''In such a big country, with regional imbalances, there are still areas where criminal and illegal activities in oil and gas fields are fairly prominent.'' State media last year reported on farmers in impoverished central China who, tempted by rocketing world crude prices, were stealing oil from pipelines in plastic bags and earning up to 1,000 dollar a month selling it to small refineries.

People living near Chinese gas fields have even been caught using huge balloons to capture the valuable commodity, which they carried away on bicycles.

REUTERS PV SP1250

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