Why The Hell Is Everyone Stealing Copper?

Search the news for "copper theft" and look through the headlines. LOOK. Stealing wire to sell the copper? From a cell tower? What is this, the Great Depression? Maybe not, but there are some economically charged reasons which help explain this trend.

Reports from the Department of Energy estimate that $US1 billion worth of copper is pilfered every single year. The problem is so rampant that there's a coalition to prevent copper theft. State laws are being passed left and right, requiring close monitoring of all copper sales. What gives?

The Market Price of Copper Is High

Over the past year alone, the price of copper surged from ~$US3.50/lb to ~$US4.50/lb before shooting down to ~$US4/oz in the past couple of weeks (two years ago, it was under $US2/lb). Those are record prices. A 2007 Department of Energy report says that copper is more in demand than any other point in history. And considering that up until recently, most electrical wire was made entirely from copper, it's damn abundant. Put two and two together and it's easy to see how one could make a quick score from a copper heist.

The Economy Blows

Maybe things aren't quite as bad as they were in 2008, but unemployment is still an issue. The U.S. credit rating has been downgraded, and the stock market seems to be unravelling. When the economy isn't good, the construction industry generally suffers. Know who would be good at harvesting copper from things? YES! Unemployed construction workers!

The Weather is Warm

Sociologists have always correlated the rise in temperature with an increase in crime. The reasoning is that we're more active when its warm, thus criminals are more likely to engage in crimes because it's easier to do so. But there's another reason directly related to copper: it's in air conditioners. So while people have their window units out during the summer, it provides more opportunity for copper theft.

The Risk Is Low

According to that same Department of Energy report, people like stealing copper wire (and scrap metal in general), because the risk of punishment is minimal. The report says that the likelihood of getting caught, prosecuted and convicted are all low.

Who Are These Jackasses Stealing Wire?

• Well there was one man in Illinois who died after trying to rip out a live copper wire from a power substation. He was literally blown out of his shoes.

• In the Northern California city of San Leandro, 3000m of copper wire was stolen in the middle of the night from UNDERGROUND, leaving some residents without power.

• That's not the only time a city has gone without power as a result of copper theft. In June, the same thing happened in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, depriving thousands of power (in a city of only 23,000).

• One man in Australia posed as a technician to gain access to telephone switch junctions and underground power stations to steal wire. He did $US110,000 worth of damage.

• According to the New York Times, the city of Fresno in California began sealing its manholes with concrete to prevent people from getting access to the underground wire systems.