Circuit court lifts injunction on oil shale plant construction

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Enefit oil-shale burning power station at Auvere, just west of Narva. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

A court has lifted an injunction barring the construction of a shale oil plant in northeastern Estonia.

Tartu Circuit Court lifted an injunction placed by the first-tier administrative court Friday, following an application from state energy giant Eesti Energia subsidiary Enefit Power.

The injunction had suspended the validity of the building permit for the Enefit 282 oil plant until a court decision in the case enters into force.

An environmental group, MTÜ Loodusvolu, appealed to the court in April last year, seeking the annulment of the building permit issued by the city government of Narva-Jõesuu, on both environmental grounds generally and climate change requirements established at EU-level in particular.

While oil shale mining and refining has been a staple of Ida-Viru County since the Soviet era, with its roots even earlier than that, during Estonia's first period of independence, it has not only been hit by the economic cycle – such as the phenomenon of negative world oil prices early in 2020 – but also by factors such as milder recent winters and the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ultimately, the largest question facing the sector is the EU climate change commitment, whereby all member states would be climate neutral by 2050, which renders the oil shale industry largely obsolete.

This has a political dimension, since Ida-Viru County, where nearly all the oil shale industry is located, has traditionally long been a major support base for the Center Party. Most of the towns in the county, including Narva-Jõesuu, are majority Russian-speaking.

While the Tartu circuit court found that the litigating NGO, MTÜ Loodusvolu, has a need for interim legal protection, it did not consider the continued application of interim legal protection to be justified in light of the expert assessments made in the case.

These assessments, plus the strategic environmental impact assessment report, show that the adverse effects of construction activities on the conservation objective of a nearby Natura 2000 network site are precluded with  clarity sufficient for European Court of Justice (ECJ) standards, the court found.

The judgement can be appealed within 15 days at the top-tier Supreme Court, also based in Tarty.

An appeal of MTÜ Loodusvolu against a decision of the Tartu Administrative Court of June 4, by which the appeal of the NGO against the building permit was rejected, is still pending at the circuit court, BNS reports, meaning the settlement of the main dispute continues at Tartu Circuit Court.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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