With major pipeline projects approved in Alberta, an expert in pipeline security predicts there could be a rise in costly vandalism to construction sites such as the damage discovered this week northwest of Grande Prairie.

RCMP are investigating after vandals used heavy construction equipment to rip up a portion of pipeline that Paramount Resources had recently installed near Hythe, 60 kilometres northwest of Grande Prairie.

The damage, estimated at between $500,000 and $700,000, was reported Sunday. The pipeline was still under construction so there was no spill.

A spokesman for Paramount Resources said no security personnel were on site at the time the damage was done.

Joden Dorner is the operations manager for Prospector Energy Service's security division. His firm wasn't working with Paramount Resources, but does work with companies that are building or planning to build pipelines.

"I think you're going to see some really big major projects starting up and these guys are going to see that, too," Dorner said Monday, referring generally to vandals and thieves.

'It's going to be easy pickings for these guys.' - Joden Dorner, Prospector Energy Services 

"You're going to have equipment spread all over the place that's not being watched and it's going to be easy pickings for these guys."

CBC News interviewed Dorner in September of 2015 about the increase in crime in the oilsands following the layoff of tens of thousands of workers.

At that time, he said as a security expert, he'd never seen anything like the drastic increase in vandalism and theft that his employees were working to mitigate.

Dorner said people cut through fences and break into control rooms, destroying computers, and equipment facilities, lifting generators and stealing quads.  

'Those who want to perform damage, they're going to get in there'

Now that two major pipeline projects have been given federal approval — the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion linking Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., and the Enbridge Line 3 replacement between Hardisty and Gretna, Man.— Dorner isn't expecting crime to drop off.

There will likely be more work in remote areas, which he said can be especially difficult to secure.

Patrick Smyth, vice-president of engineering and safety for the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, which represents transmission pipeline companies, echoed that thought.

Smyth said people who want to wreak havoc generally succeed, regardless of how isolated a portion of a project might seem.

'There's no construction site that is off base for those who might want to cause harm to Canada's critical energy infrastructure.' - Patrick Smyth, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association

"There's no construction site that is off base for those who might want to cause harm to Canada's critical energy infrastructure," Smyth said.

"Even though it might seem out of sight and out of mind, those who want to perform damage, they're going to get in there."

Kilometres-long stretches of pipeline can be even harder to monitor, Smyth said.

"You could have security personnel out there driving the right-of-way, but if there's an individual or individuals out there who want to cause harm, they could perform nasty activities to the pipeline when the security personnel are at the other end."

Dorner said his employees are told not to confront thieves or vandals.

"I mean, you never know what their intentions are," he said. "It creates a situation that potentially could be dangerous."

Some major companies already have or are starting to get their own security, he added.

"I think the eyes have been opened now and a lot of the companies are being proactive."

He advised that security must remain a priority for pipeline builders.

"They're still looking to the future with these big projects and not considering security as an option. I think they're going to find that it's something that needs to be in place."

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell