The government approved a new, 15-year development plan for Estonia's most lucrative natural resource – the oil shale rock. The new plan, if approved, will keep mining quotas at the current 20-million-tons-per-year level.
Environment Minister Marko Pomerants said the resource must be used more efficiently, such as turning it into shale oil, and in a more environmentally friendly manner.
The plan sees more focus on research into new production technology with the total cost of the development plan implementation set at 20 million euros. The government said that price could increase through more research funding.
The state said it will have a new oil shale tax system ready by 2017, a system which better takes into account outside variables, such as the world price of petrol or energy.
Currently, companies are allowed to mine 20 million tons of the rock each year. Currently less is mined and at least one or two new mines would have to be opened to keep up with that level, if deemed necessary.
Pomerants said the aim of the plan is to decrease oil shale's part in electricity production to 50 percent and heat to 80 percent.
Valdur Lahtvee of the Stockholm Environment Institute's Tallinn branch, said he does not believe talk by the government of the new development plan's aim of decreasing the environmental impact as there are new means for reaching the aim stated in the the plan.
According to government estimates, Estonia has around 1 billion tons of oil shale rock which can be mined outside of settlements and natural reserves.
The entire industry has been hit by low energy and petrol prices in the last 12 months, with hundreds of jobs cut. Some jobs have been restored as the private sector has been given more mining rights.
Editor: J.M. Laats