Signs of the biodiesel apocalypse

A grease bandit gets nabbed outside a Burger King in Morgan Hill, Calif. Used french fry oil never smelled so sweet

By Andrew Leonard

Published April 3, 2008 1:52PM (EDT)

In the South Bay town of Morgan Hill, Calif., a 49-year-old Illinois man was arrested for illegally pumping left-over cooking grease from a Burger King franchise into his tanker truck. He was caught "greasy handed."

Nearly everyone interviewed in the accompanying CBS News clip has a hard time restraining their chortles -- what nut would want to steal used french fry grease? Even the grease bandit, David Richardson, has a grin on his face in his mug shot. But in the next breath, they all acknowledge, that yes, wanton grease thievery is a distressing sign of the times. With truckers in Georgia protesting the high cost of diesel, used cooking oil that can be converted to biodiesel is becoming a hot commodity.

This is not a particularly new crime -- way back in 2000, Susan McCarthy wrote a hilarious story on "Grease Rustlers" for Salon. But the economics are interesting.

Richardson worked for a Nevada company called Restaurant Oils of America that trucked used grease to a facility in Atascadero, Calif. paying $1.35 a gallon -- 55 cents higher than Nevada prices, according to CBS News' Len Ramirez. So the 300 gallons stolen from Burger King was worth about 400 dollars to Richardson.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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