March 17 (UPI) -- In outlining a budget for oil-rich Alberta, the finance minister said building pipelines to the Canadian coast is the "best way" to sell its energy resources.
Alberta is at the center of the Canadian oil and natural gas sector. In releasing its budget plans through 2020, the provincial government said the dual strains of low oil prices and wildfires last year that sidelined about 1 million barrels per day in production meant the economy is just starting to recovery.
Budget expenses increase from 2.2 percent through 2018, and then 2.7 percent through the rest of the period. That compares with projected population growth plus inflation, which is expected to average 3.3 percent over the next three years.
"As our economy recovers, we will continue to bring the deficit down to balance, and we will do so without sacrificing the supports and services families need," Finance Minister Joe Ceci said in a statement.
The government estimates the provincial economy will grow by 2.6 percent this year. The finance minister said that, while drilling is on the rise and oil prices are recovering, the provincial economy is not yet "out of the woods."
Alberta has pushed to diversify its economy away from oil and natural gas in moves the finance minister described as setting "green shoots." Nevertheless, fossil fuels remain central to the provincial economy.
Canada is the No. 1 oil exporter to the United States and remains relatively landlocked. Options may evolve, however, with U.S. President Donald Trump embracing the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would extend from Alberta to the southern U.S. coast.
Ceci in his budget speech focused more on breaking the landlock for the sake of diversity.
"Getting a Canadian pipeline built to a Canadian coast is the best way for our world-class energy producers to sell our resources at world-class prices," he said.
The federal government this year approved plans by pipeline company Kinder Morgan to nearly triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline network to around 890,000 barrels of oil per day. Trans Mountain runs west toward the Canadian coast.
For Alberta, an oil-rich province that saw drastic economic downturns last year because of the low price of oil, the approval earlier this year meant it was one step closer to moving its oil outside of North America.
On the budget plan in general, Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann said it put too much faith on borrowing.
"In the past, we have compared this approach to paying the mortgage with a credit card or selling the family farm to pay the monthly bills," he said in a statement. "It simply does not make financial sense."