Nov. 29 (UPI) -- The oil-rich Canadian province of Alberta is leading the country in economic growth with all sectors on a clear acceleration trend, the finance minister said.
"With the recession behind us, Alberta's economy has returned to growth," Finance Minister Joe Ceci 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. Production last year averaged 2.5 million barrels per day, which was about double the output from North Dakota, the second-largest oil producer in the United States.
Total oil production for Alberta in September, the last full month for which provincial data are available, was 3.2 million bpd.
Alberta's economy was hammered last year 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.
With budget planning for the next fiscal year on the horizon, Ceci said the provincial 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 provincial government is anticipating a deficit of $8 billion (USD), $143 million less than forecast for the last budget. So far, the government is $78 million away from its goal of saving $312 million in administrative costs. A salary freeze is already in place.
Ceci said the government is basing its forecast on a price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for the price of oil, at $49 per barrel, the same as it estimated for the first quarter. So far this year, the government said WTI has averaged $49.42 per barrel.
Over the next two months, provincial leaders will consult constituents on next year's budget.
"I look forward to hearing Albertans' thoughts on how we can continue to make life better for Albertans while compassionately tightening our belt and returning responsibly and carefully to balance without extreme and risky cuts," Ceci said.
Ceci's forecast 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.