LINCOLN, Maine — Police are appealing for the public’s help in catching the thief or thieves who have siphoned at least 25 gallons of No. 2 heating oil from each of the storage tanks of six downtown businesses.
Police Chief William Lawrence called the theft of heating oil unique — one of the strangest, and most rare, commodities he’s seen stolen in his more than 20 years in law enforcement.
“I am wondering if it is the cold spell over the last few weeks that is behind this,” Lawrence said Tuesday. “People do desperate things during desperate times. That was my first thought. Or is it somebody selling the stuff?”
Lawrence said he is unaware of any other community suffering heating-oil thefts.
“This is not the norm,” he said.
A heating oil theft, this time K-1 oil, was reported at a Livermore Falls church on Jan. 23. About 100 gallons worth about $400 was reported stolen, Livermore Falls Police Chief Ernest Steward said in one media account. Two other thefts were reported last week, he said.
Such thefts are rare, probably because it takes the proper equipment — such as a pump and an oil truck or other tools — and a lot of time, said Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.
“It is not like you can just go in and hit and run with it. It takes a lot of time to steal. Even with commercial companies that have professional pumps it takes time to pump out a tank,” McCausland said Wednesday.
“I would think the theft of firewood would be far more common than heating oil. Many times it is in just some sort of pile outside a house, and accessible,” he added.
The towns and unorganized territories the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department patrols see heating oil thefts rarely, Deputy Sheriff Troy Morton said.
“Usually it is diesel fuel taken from logging companies. Very seldom do we have them from homes, and we don’t have business districts to patrol,” Morton said. “I am not shocked by it [heating-oil theft]. People get onto things and they figure out how how to do it.”
Heating oil certainly has value. The average cash price for No. 2 heating oil this week is $3.76 per gallon, up two cents from last week’s price survey, according to the governor’s energy office’s weekly survey report dated Tuesday.
The average kerosene price jumped to $4.24 per gallon, up 10 cents from last week. The average statewide propane price, however, fell one cent from last week, to $2.72 per gallon, according to the survey report at maine.gov.
In Lincoln, Edwards & Johnson Attorneys at Law at 36 Main St., Lincoln House of Pizza at 38 Main St., Income Tax Man at 40 Main St. Apt. B, Lincoln Chiropractic Center at 228 West Broadway, and Marquis Heating on 110 River Road are among the businesses reporting the thefts, Lawrence said.
The businesses had losses of 25 to 50 gallons each, Lawrence said.
When business owners began reporting that their tank’s oil levels had been dramatically lowered due to theft – in some cases running out of oil entirely — police took the reports but were somewhat skeptical. Then the number of complaints showed that the thefts were probably genuine, Lawrence said.
Police have enlisted the help of workers from Dead River Oil Co. to show them how the thefts would be possible. They ask anyone who might have information about the thefts or who might have had oil stolen from them to call 794-8455. All calls will be kept confidential, Lawrence said.
“We are developing leads,” Lawrence said.
Officer Mark Fucile and Sgt. Glenn Graef are investigating the thefts. Lawrence recommended that anyone concerned about having their heating oil stolen should call their provider to find ways to safeguard their tanks.