Record result forecast for oil shale mining sector in 2023

Oil shale mining in Ida-Viru County (photo is illustrative).
Oil shale mining in Ida-Viru County (photo is illustrative). Source: Jarek Jõepera/University of Tartu Natural History Museum

Estonia's oil shale mining sector is forecast to post a record result for recent years, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Sunday.

The changed security situation and the need to de-couple from Russian energy supplies has led to an increased demand for the oil, refined in Ida-Viru County from the shale mined in the same region, as a fuel for generating electricity.

This has been twinned with a favorable situation in the oil shale market, AK reported.

Whereas in the preceding two years, less than half of the permitted limit of 20 million tonnes of oil shale was mined, this year demand has risen.

Erik Kosenkranius, Deputy Director of the Environmental Board (Keskkonnaamet), said that 10 million tonnes had already been mined in the first three quarters, telling AK that: "12-13 million tonnes will be used [this year]. The current economic situation and energy issues have set expectations for oil shale producers, which will be realized."

Meanwhile, Priit Orumaa, board chair at Kiviõli keemiatööstus, one of the companies involved in the oil shale sector, told AK that 2023 might prove even more of a boon.

He said: "Currently we are mining at our usual volume, but next year we will try to pull of a record year for oil shale mining, namely, we will pledge to extract one-and-a-half million tonnes of oil shale from mines and quarries."

"We will consume a large proportion of that ourselves, but we will also sell plenty to our partners, Eesti Energia and VKG," Orumaa added. .

Nonetheless, given oil shale's heavy carbon footprint, which makes it incompatible with achieving long-range EU climate goals, it is harder for the sector to plan for the longer term.

VKG board chair Ahti Asmann said his company is working in a situation where, from some perspectives, shale oil is no longer expected to appear on the market. "However, we also know that, currently shale oil is awaited at power stations in Estonia, and Estonian firms are expecting it."

"Perhaps it is even a somewhat hysterical situation, whereby fuel is needed, but production is not. But we don't let ourselves be disturbed by that. Our position is very clear: We work as long as there is a demand for shale oil - and we have been seeing that there is indeed a demand - and for as long as the regulations allow for it," Asmann went on.

VKG and Kiviõli are also looking to potential new mining areas, though Enefit Power, subsidiary of state generator Eesti Energia, says it already has sufficient stocks.

Andres Vainola, Enefit Power board chair, told AK that: "Opening up new mining fields is a decades-long project, and we won't be discussing it until the mid-2030s. Until then, we have sufficient development and mining projects to cover our energy needs from oil shale, and also from tire waste and plastics."

Oil shale has a long history in Estonia, dating back the the period of the First Republic, between the two world wars, when the Kiviter process was invented.

In the past century, 1.2 billion tonnes of oil shale has been extracted from Estonia's sub-soil, while 4.6 billion is left, of which around a billion tonnes is seen as viable for extraction, ERR reports.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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