On April 18th-19th, the groundbreaking work of Dr. Ian Ralby, a senior fellow with the Global Energy Center, and co-author Dr. David Soud, was featured at the first global conference on oil and fuel theft, Oil and Fuel Theft 2018, held in Geneva, Switzerland. Over the past two years, Dr. Ralby and his team have published three major reports on the global menace of oil and fuel theft in partnership with the Atlantic Council. The most recent of these reports—Oil on the Water: Illicit Hydrocarbons Activity in the Maritime Domain—had its European launch at the event.

These reports offer the first comprehensive picture of global hydrocarbons crime: its scale, which amounts to an estimated $130 billion a year or more; its many modalities; the billions of dollars in losses it inflicts on government revenues, corporate profits, and human services; its destabilizing effects on states and regions; its role in financing transnational organized crime, armed insurgencies, and terrorist groups; and its links to other forms of trafficking.

The conference was a watershed event, bringing together stakeholders from around the world to seek solutions to a global problem that has garnered international attention through the work of Dr. Ralby, I.R. Consilium, and the Atlantic Council. The conference attracted 140 attendees from around the world, including leadership of National Oil Companies (NOCs) from Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Ghana, and Uganda as well as government delegations from the United States and the Philippines. The lead sponsor, SICPA, was joined by Dow Chemical, Altave, John Hogg, Authentix, and SGS; the Republic and Canton of Geneva also shared its official support for this pivotal event.

Dr. Ralby, who co-chaired the conference along with former Royal Dutch Shell Vice President David Masson, presented the opening talk on the nature and scale of oil and fuel theft, followed by a panel with Dr. Soud and Mr. Sylvain Tran of GLS France on countering and mitigating hydrocarbons crime, moderated the Director of the Global Energy Center, Randy Bell. The ensuing presentations and panel discussions covered a range of issues.

Some of the conference’s most important and striking insights came in relation to Iraq and Libya. General Mahmound al-Bayati, Director General for Counter-Terrorism and National Security Advisor for the Republic of Iraq, partnered with Ali Younes, Regional Advisor for the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, to present a revealing case study on how oil and fuel smuggling took root and came to flourish in Iraq. Dr. George Kiourktsoglou, Visiting Lecturer at the University of Greenwich, reviewed his major research on the possible dynamics of oil smuggling for profit by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. At the end of the conference’s first day, Mr. Mustafa Sanalla, Chairman of Libya’s NOC, gave a moving talk announcing forthcoming measures and a new strategy against fuel smuggling in Libya, and called on other states and international organizations to support those efforts.

Other important presentations discussed initiatives elsewhere to combat oil and fuel theft. The Honorable Dakila Cua, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means for the Republic of the Philippines, set forth an instructive account of how his government has set in motion a fuel-marking program designed to combat the smuggling that has undercut government revenues and financed terrorist activities in his country. Ms. Sheila Addo, Head of Research and Technical Aide to the CEO of the Ghanaian National Petroleum Authority, related her country’s ongoing measures to engage proactively in countering oil and fuel theft. And Dr. Michael Mugerwa, General Manager of the Uganda Refinery Holding Company, discussed the security issues confronting Uganda as it moves toward production and refining of its own significant oil reserves.

Other presentations and panels explored both technical and legal aspects of countering hydrocarbons crime. Technical experts from across the European Union, as well as representatives from providers of fuel marking technology, spoke on detecting and combating fuel adulteration and smuggling, while other panels explored issues of governance, maritime security, and the human costs of the many stakeholders in this global challenge.

Oil and Fuel Theft 2018 built on the work of Dr. Ralby, his team, and the Atlantic Council to forge a global network of stakeholders who can share information, expertise, and other mutual support in taking on what has been revealed as a worldwide threat to security and prosperity. Future collaborations and conferences will build on this promising start.

For further background on oil and fuel theft, go to the Atlantic Council’s website to read and download Dr. Ralby his team’s earlier reports: Downstream Oil Theft: Global Modalities, Trends, and Remedies, and Downstream Oil Theft: Implications and Next Steps.