Dec. 29 (UPI) -- After starting the year in recession, the oil-rich province of Alberta is entering 2018 with the fastest rate of growth in Canada, the economic minister said.
At one point last year, the oil-rich province was anticipating an $8 billion deficit and lingering recession because of the downturn in crude oil prices and May 2016 wildfires in the Fort McMurray area that idled about 1 million barrels per day worth of regional oil production.
There were 435 exploration and production wells drilled in Alberta in September, the last full month for which the provincial government has data. That's up 75.4 percent from the same time last year.
For jobs in general, Economic Minister Deron Bilous said the average weekly earnings of $911 (USD) is the highest in the country. Those average earnings are relatively on par with those in the United States, the world's leading economy.
Bilous said the province started the year in recession, but is leaving 2017 with the fastest rate of growth in the country.
"We have more work to do, but it is clear: Alberta is moving forward," he said in a statement.
Based on reserves for oil sands, a thicker type of oil, Alberta by itself ranks third in the world behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia with a 2016 reserve estimate of 165.4 billion barrels. Total oil production for Alberta in September, the last full month for which provincial data are available, was 3.2 million bpd.
Finance Minister Joe Ceci said last month that Alberta's economy is on pace to show a growth rate of gross domestic product of 4 percent for the year. First quarter growth was 3.1 percent and the latest estimate is the second time this year the provincial growth projection was revised higher.
The finance minister's estimate comes as U.S. and Canadian officials review the terms of the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada counts on the United States as its top trading partner and is the top oil exporter to its southern neighbor. Three oil and gas trade groups in North America said in a joint policy paper that "any changes" to the trilateral trade agreement put energy markets at risk.