Using shale oil in gas-heated housing is justified, Minister of Economy and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) said on Tuesday, and this can be done before reserves have run out.
Sikkut said there is no reason to declare a country-wide emergency, but local governments must decide soon if they need to take this step or not, as Narva has already done.
"Here is a recommendation, it is not necessary to wait for the arrival of cold weather, but steps could be taken immediately if the district heat provider wants to use oil shale oil as a reserve fuel or needs to use another fuel instead of gas," she said.
The minister said if district heating companies have already tried and failed to acquire gas reserves, the municipality should contact the Environmental Board to seek permission to use other types of fuel, such as shale oil.
Permission is needed because shale oil is a bigger pollutant than natural gas. It can take several weeks to obtain.
"The Environmental Board has already asked for the Ministry's view and we have clearly said, that yes, there is a reason to use reserve fuels, and it is not necessary to wait until the gas reserves are exhausted or used up to a trickle," the SDE politicians said.
Sikkut said, in this instance, the state will not impose a time limit on the use of reserve fuel and it can be done throughout the winter.
Due to the EU's climate goals, Estonia is trying to phase out the use of shale oil but as the government wants to reduce its reliance on Russian gas as quickly as possible, this is the least worst option.
Sikkut called it a "crisis measure" but said increasing Estonia's reliance on shale oil is not a long-term option.
"Extraordinary measures must be used in exceptional circumstances. Fortunately, we have an alternative fuel in the form of shale oil," she said, adding it will likely be cheaper to heat homes with alternative fuels this winter than gas.
Narva leading by example
Sikkut praised Narva City Government which has already taken the suggested steps and thinks other politicians should follow its example.
She said Tallinn, the biggest city in Estonia, has not yet started this process but should follow the same procedure.
"We don't make a regional difference in terms of who can use reserve fuel or not, but this process has to go through and the sooner it starts the better," the minister told Tuesdsay's "Aktuaalne kaamera".
Sikkut said preparations need to be taken now so companies are ready to use different fuels.
Erik Kosenkranius, deputy director general of the Environmental Board, said municipalities can already submit a request and declaring a state of emergency is not necessary.
"The Environmental Board reviews the application and asks for an assessment from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications as well. Such a procedure is relatively quick, an answer can be received within a few weeks," he said.
Editor: Helen Wright