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Eesti Energia to expand oil shale mining operations, restore 150 jobs

Underground repair workshop at Eesti Energia's Estonia mine.
Underground repair workshop at Eesti Energia's Estonia mine. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Increasing energy demands have led to the rapid depletion of oil shale stocks in Estonia. State-owned energy group Eesti Energia is responding by expanding its oil shale mining operations and restoring 150 jobs.

The restoration of jobs will begin at the group's mines, as oil shale stocks have shrunk rapidly. While oil shale reserves last fall stood at some 4 million tons, the current inventory is just half that. The old energy blocks at the power plants in Narva, previously typically only used to help cover peak demand, have been online for several months already.

"If we look at energy prices and demand in the region right now, our old blocks have been working for much longer than we expected," said Andres Vainola, CEO of Eesti Energia subsidiary AS Enefit Power. "While we expected them to be on the market for maybe just a few days or weeks in December-January, they're actually currently still on the market. We're talking about the end of April."

According to Vainola, power plants and oil refineries are continuing to work at max capacity even now. There are several reasons for this.

"No one will be left untouched by the war going on in Ukraine," he said. "We can see that energy prices have increased significantly in Europe as well; we can see that gas prices are far from falling. And again — a much cooler spring than usual. The combined effect of these [factors] is that there has been a much higher demand on not just electric energy, but also liquid fuels and district heating as well."

Enefit Power intends to restore 150 jobs through the end of the year. These are jobs, primarily in oil shale mining, that had been cut from the oil shale sector in recent years in connection with EU climate policy.

"We'd like to transition to a seven-day workweek at the Estonia mine starting June 1 already, but we are planning on increasing production volumes at the Narva quarry starting from the beginning of next year, where we want to bring two of our own mothballed dragline excavators back online by the end of the year so that they can be in production at the beginning of next year, when energy prices and demand for both heat and electricity will surely still be high," the CEO said.

The use of waste wood at the Auvere and Balti power plants has dwindled, as rising wood waste costs have made it cheaper to use oil shale as fuel at power plants.

Just over 1,600 people currently work at Enefit Power subsidiaries, power plants, oil refineries and mines.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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