A driver from a DeForest recycling company was making his rounds at about 4:30 a.m. Friday when he came upon two men pumping oil outside Texas Roadhouse, 3201 Deerfield Drive, Janesville.
The men fled in an unmarked white Isuzu box truck, according to police reports. The driver followed the truck as far as Highway 14 and Pontiac Drive. Police found an oil trail and think the truck got onto westbound Interstate 90/39 from northbound Highway 26, according to police reports.
Reported stolen were 6,700 pounds of oil valued at about $2,500.
Used cooking oil in the central United States on Friday was trading at $36.50 for 100 gallons, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Most of the used cooking oil collected from restaurants is recycled in biofuel production, said George Dreckmann, recycling coordinator for the city of Madison. Recycling companies typically pay restaurants for the used oil, he said.
Dreckmann thinks the stolen oil likely would be used by an individual making biofuel for a personal vehicle. Unlike other commonly stolen recyclables such as scrap metal or copper wire, the oil wouldn't net much of a profit, Dreckmann said.
"If you're taking it for personal use, you're saving yourself a couple bucks a gallon," Dreckmann said. Selling the oil to a recycling company would net only 20 cents a gallon or so, Dreckmann said. Oil would be a hard product to steal, Dreckmann said.
"You'd make a total mess of yourself," he said.
The city of Madison collects used cooking oil from residents and businesses. The city's priority is keeping the oil out of storm sewers, Dreckmann said. A Madison-based biofuel company collects the oil but does not pay the city, Dreckmann said.
"We could have 15 kinds of oil in that tank," Dreckmann said.
The city of Janesville does not recycle used cooking oil and does not allow used oil in the landfill.
The contractor who reported the oil stolen from Texas Roadhouse later Friday told police he found cooking oil missing from several other Janesville businesses along his route.
Janesville Police Sgt. Mark Ratzlaf on Sunday said investigators were investigating whether the reported thefts were linked or are part of a larger organized effort to steal cooking oil.
Ratzlaf said police have no suspects. It wasn't clear whether all the cooking oil thefts occurred overnight Friday.