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Oil’s $133 Billion Black Market

Oil’s $133 Billion Black Market

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Oil is still the world’s leading energy source, with growing demand, a fluctuating pricing system, and much of its production in volatile regions. The oil market’s value is larger than the world’s valuable raw metal markets combined, with an annual production valued at US$1.7 trillion. A flourishing black market is no surprise, with about US$133 billion worth of fuels stolen or adulterated every year. These practices fund dangerous non-state actors such as the Islamic State, Mexican drug cartels, Italian Mafia, Eastern European criminal groups, Libyan militias, Nigerian rebels and more – and are a major global security concern.

The top five countries accused of oil trafficking – Nigeria, Mexico, Iraq, Russia, and Indonesia – are also producers. It is estimated that Nigeria alone loses US$1.5 billion a month due to pipeline tapping, illegal production and other sophisticated schemes. In Southeast Asia, about 3 percent of the fuel consumed is sourced from the black market, estimated to be worth up to US$10 billion a year. In Mexico, drug cartels launder drug revenues through the oil trade

Other countries are not immune. Turkey is not an oil producer yet serves as a major transit route for hydrocarbons flowing to Europe from OPEC countries like Iraq and Iran. As an energy hub, Turkey is strategically situated for the illegal trade and lost an estimated US$5 billion in tax revenue in 2017. An uptick in smuggling oil and other refined products began 2014, when ISIS took control of major Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.

As with most commodities, the volume of oil smuggling is primarily linked to fluctuating prices. With climbing oil prices, illicit trade is expected to increase.

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