Audit: Increase in depositing oil shale waste should not be regarded as inevitable (1)
The audit carried out by the National Audit Office indicated that the Ministry of the Environment must motivate companies to reduce the generation of waste associated with oil shale extraction and use more efficiently than before and increase the recovery of generated waste. The audit also points out that it would be reasonable of the Environmental Board to request appropriate guarantees from companies that would ensure the state would not have to spend money closing down landfills or waste disposal sites of bankrupt owners.
Approximately 17 million tons of oil shale extraction and processing waste is generated per year, which comprises 80 percent of all waste generated in Estonia. The generation of oil shale waste increased by 56 percent from 2009-2013 due to the increase in electricity generation and oil production. Since the beginning of the oil shale industry, more than 400 million tons of waste has been deposited in landfills and waste facilities, which cover more than 27 square kilometers of Ida-Viru County. The waste generated by the oil shale industry keeps having a negative environmental impact on the living and natural environment of the area.
An audit by the National Audit Office has now found that although oil shale waste is generated in large quantities, the state has not regarded this as a significant problem and not demanded that companies generate less waste and increase waste recovery. The large share of oil shale waste in overall waste generation has been acknowledged in the National Waste Management Plan adopted in 2014, but any discussion of oil shale waste is non-committal, and whilst the existing situation has been recognised, the plan doesn’t offer any solutions for improving it.
It is stated in the Waste Management Plan that the development and implementation of waste recovery solutions and technologies in the oil shale sector must be supported, but the plan and its operational program offer no measures or activities for the achievement of these goals, the audit office found. No target levels have been set for waste reduction and recovery in the National Development Plan for Oil Shale Use either, and the environmental protection permits issued to the companies that generate oil shale waste do not require them to reduce waste generation and depositing, and to increase recovery.
The audit also revealed that there are several opportunities for oil shale waste recovery, but no suitable and economically justified solutions for large-scale waste recycling have not been found, because the demand for products made of oil shale waste is insufficient. While the Ministry of the Environment is of the opinion that finding waste recovery options is primarily a duty of companies, the National Audit Office claims that the state should still promote the recovery of oil shale waste, for example, by creating demand for products made of oil shale waste in the construction of public buildings and structures.
Until options for recovering oil shale waste are found, the majority of waste generated by the industry is still deposited at landfills.
The audit additionally revealed that the data submitted by the companies to the state about waste quantities and environmental monitoring, which are the basis of the state’s strategic waste management decisions, the collection of pollution charges, national statistics and ascertainment of environmental impact, are not adequately checked.
The state has spent over 50 million euros on elimination of the residual pollution caused by oil shale waste and will have to spend tens of millions more. Among others, the Ministry of the Environment has had to streamline the old semi-coke hills in Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli. The Purtse river, the phenol bog and the Kukruse mine waste hill still need to be streamlined. It was found that the system of monetary guarantees, pursuant to Estonian law, has not been adeqately and sufficiently implemented.
According to the office, 8 tons of hazardous waste per person per year is generated in Estonia. This indicator places Estonia firmly in the first place among all European Union Member States, and it exceeds the European average – 200 kg per person per year – 40 times.