Signup for our free newsletter:

Oil Theives Target Fryer Grease

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted May 21, 2008




Back in the old days when I was a famous restaurateur, I developed a serious loathing of fryer grease.

That’s because after a few days of cooking everything in it from wings to French fries, the grease was simply disgusting.  It just smelled awful by then and would make you gag every time you got up enough courage to change it.

The good part was that all you had to do was get it to the barrel out back. From there a guy would haul it a way for nothing and it would be gone for good.

A guy named Earl hauled ours away. Nice enough fella but he smelled like he had been dragged through the garbage dump everyday since he was born. Now I don’t know if there was a Mrs. Earl, but I kind of doubt it.


Hauling oil was a nasty business.

But with the price of gasoline now over $4/ a gallon, that same nasty oil is being stolen before guys like Earl can even get to it.  The thieves are turning it into biodiesel to save a few bucks at the pump.

I kid you not.

Here’s the story From AP by Garance Burke entitled: Thieves swipe used cooking oil to brew biodiesel

"A few years ago, drums of used french fry grease were only of interest to a small network of underground biofuel brewers, who would use the slimy oil to power their souped-up antique Mercedes.

Now, restaurants from Berkeley, Calif. to Sedgwick, Kan. are reporting thefts of old cooking oil worth thousands of dollars by rustlers who are refining it into barrels of biofuel in backyard stills.

"It’s like a war zone going on right now over grease," said David Levenson, who owns a grease hauling business in San Francisco’s Mission District. "We’re seeing more and more people stealing grease because it lets them stay away from the pump, but it’s hurting our bottom line."

Levenson, who converted the engine in his ’83 Mercedes to run on straight canola oil, has built up contracts to collect the liquid leftovers from 400 restaurants in the last two years.

Last week when his pump truck arrived at Thee Parkside, a dive bar known for its chili-cheese fries, his driver found someone had already helped himself to their barrel of yellow oil.

Grease is transformed into fuel through a chemical process called transesterification, which removes glycerine and adds methanol to the oil, leaving a thinner product that can power a diesel engine. Biodiesel can also be blended with petroleum diesel, and blends of the alternative fuel are now sold at 1,400 gas stations across the country.

But as the price of diesel shoots up, so, too, does the value of grease.

In the last three years, the price of soybean oil-the main feedstock for biodiesel made in the United States-has tripled. Last week, a gallon of crude soybean oil fetched 66 cents on the open market, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Those kinds of numbers have encouraged biofuel enthusiasts to plunder restaurants’ greasy waste, and have even spurred the City of San Francisco to get into the grease-trap cleaning business.

"Restaurants and staff are no longer looking at this material as trash, they’re looking at is as something that’s about to go into city vehicles," said Karri Ving, who runs the city’s new waste cooking oil collection program. ‘Unless you lock down every trash can, thefts are going to happen.’"

Hmmm…now here’s an idea whose time has come—-a fifty-five gallon drum complete with locking cap.

Sort of like the one I used to have on my first car to keep thieves from siphioning off my gas.

High oil prices make people do weird things.