Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Through one of the largest investments in provincial history, expansions to an oil sands project in Alberta triggers big gains in output, its premier said.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley was on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the start of a $1.6 billion (USD) expansion project led by Japan Canada Oil Sands Ltd. At its Hangingstone project in Fort McMurray, the expansion will use steam to help improve oil production from the current rate of 1,000 barrels per day to 20,000 bpd by the middle of next year.
"Good jobs for Albertans, billions of dollars in new investment and a growing economy -- that's what this expansion project means," Notley said in a statement.
The project is one of the largest investments in Alberta in 40 years.
The provincial government expects growth in terms of gross domestic product for 2017 at 3.1 percent, up from the budget forecast of 2.65 percent. With a push for diversification under way, non-energy exports were up 7.1 percent in the first half of the year.
Alberta's economy bottomed out in the middle of 2016 after it was hammered by the dual strains from lower crude oil prices and wildfires that swept through the heart of the provincial oil sector. About 1 million barrels of oil per day were sidelined by fires centered in the Fort McMurray region last year.
Notley added that "it's never been more important for us to get new pipelines built," which would help Canada tap deeper into the growing Asian economies. Nearly all of Canadian oil exports head to the United States and the country is working to break the land lock.
Elsewhere, Alberta estimates about 170 square miles near the southwest provincial border with the United States are scorched by wildfire. Cameron Yost, a spokesperson for Shell Canada, said the company was shutting down some of its operations in the area as a safety precaution.
"We will gradually shut-in wells and facilities in the field to remove gas from areas closest to the fire," Yost said in a statement emailed to UPI.
A spokesperson for Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. told UPI there was no impact from the southern Alberta wildfire on its operations.