Copper Theft in Oklahoma City Leads to Second Power Outage

August 22, 2006

Utility officials in Oklahoma City, Okla., blamed a blackout that left several thousand households without power on the theft of copper from a substation.

The Friday, Aug. 18, outage on the city’s south side marked the second time in two weeks that thieves broke into Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. substations to steal copper, which is selling for near-record high prices.

The latest outage apparently was caused by a stolen copper wire used to ground the substation equipment, Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Brian Alford said.

The metal is believed to have been stolen late Thursday night or early Friday morning even though the power outage began about 3:30 Friday afternoon.

“If there was a fault on the circuit, without the ground wire there, it would cause an outage,” Alford said.

The outage follows just eight days after someone broke into an OG&E power substation in Moore to steal copper from a transformer. That attempt shut off electricity for about 3,800 customers in Moore and about 1,700 in Norman for several hours.

A rise in the number of copper thefts has been reported worldwide in recent months as metal prices have approached record highs. Copper closed at $3.45 a pound Friday on the New York Commodities Exchange.

Copper thieves increasingly have targeted home construction sites, air conditioners and other locations and equipment known to contain large amounts of copper. Thefts among the electric utilities, however, are more than simple nuisances, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode said.

“This is critical infrastructure,” she said. “When you’re shutting down a substation or knocking out a transmission line, you have an impact on a segment of the economy and the infrastructure that’s being supplied.”

The commission is working with the state Department of Homeland Security, the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association and other groups to reduce the number of thefts against electric utilities and to find and prosecute people who already have targeted the infrastructure.

Information from: The Oklahoman,

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