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The Ministry of the Environment presents the strategic environmental assessment report of the oil shale development plan
The results of strategic environmental assessment of the new “National Development Plan for Oil Shale Use 2016-2030” are presented in today’s public discussion. The development plan emphasises, among other aspects, the need for a significant increase in the added value gained from oil shale and the report was used as the basis for the proposal to retain the annual oil shale mining quota at 20 million tons.
According to the principles of the oil shale development plan, efficient and sustainable use of oil shale as an important mineral resource for Estonia and reduction of the sector’s environmental impact are the priority areas for action. The development plan further aims at ensuring sustainable development of the oil shale industry and supply of oil shale in line with economic, security and social goals.
The strategic environmental assessment report, created by AS Mavese, includes a recommendation to retain the annual permitted oil shale mining quota at 20 million tons. This rate of mining would not increase the estimated environmental impact of the oil shale sector compared to the current situation.
Ado Lõhmus, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of the Environment, explained that analysing the maximum possible mining volume was an important consideration in the creation of the development plan and strategic environmental assessment. “Going over the annual mining limit of 20 million tons would increase problems with ambient air and water quality and tipping of waste. Environmental policy should be based on a precautionary approach,” Ado Lõhmus added.
Based on issued permits and current annual quotas, the presently exploitable oil shale reserves would last for 17 years and one or two new mining sites would have to be established during the oil shale development plan period 2016-2030. According to the list of deposits in the Environmental Register, total oil shale resources amount to nearly 4.75 billion tons, including 1.34 billion tons of active reserves. Excluding current nature conservation areas, as well as residential sites and other areas with surface-related restrictions, the active reserves would last for about 48 years, assuming an annual mining quota of 20 million tons.
Increasing efficiency of oil shale exploitation requires major boosting of added value from oil shale, i.e., processing of oil shale, while also restricting the associated emissions to air and water and increasing industrial waste recycling rates. Ado Lõhmus said that the value of oil shale can be increased, for instance, by stepping up its use in oil production but research and development efforts continue to diversify the range of applications. “For example, oil shale can be used to manufacture gas and high-value chemicals. Diversified production would also help to manage risks associated with various external factors (oil, CO2 prices) and ensure greater benefit for society from this non-renewable resource,” Lõhmus added.
Ensuring consistent development of the oil shale industry is an essential target. This entails both research in the technology of mining and use of oil shale as well as studying the environmental impact of the oil shale sector.
The oil shale development plan establishes the principles and directions of the oil shale industry for the next 15 years. Creation of the oil shale development plan was a public process, involving representatives of relevant public authorities, incl. ministries, companies, local governments, organisations and non-profit associations, and other stakeholders interested in the process. Experts have been recruited to obtain improved information and analysis of the oil shale sector.