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May electricity deficit leads to record oil shale consumption

An oil shale quarry in Estonia. Photo is illustrative.
An oil shale quarry in Estonia. Photo is illustrative. Source: (Pärnu Postimees/Scanpix)

Estonian state-owned energy company Eesti Energia and Viru Keemia Grupp (VKG) combined used nearly two million tons of commercial oil shale in their power plants and oil refineries in May — an amount yet unseen in Estonia in this century.

"I can't remember such a time — everything is going full-throttle, both power plants and oil refineries," regional paper Põhjarannik (link in Estonian) quoted Eesti Energia board member Andres Vainola as saying.

Eesti Energia's power stations and oil refineries consumed nearly 1.6 million tons of oil shale during the month of May, which is twice the amount used in May 2016.

In the same month, VKG's oil refineries consumed 400,000 tons of oil shale. "We are operating at full power right now: in operation are three new Petroter as well as two older Kiviter oil refineries," VKG public relations manager Irina Bojenko confirmed.

New post-1991 production records are being set in mining as well. Mining extraction volumes at the Estonia mine and Narva quarry reached 1.2 million tons this May. The Estonia mine was in operation seven days per week from the end of last year through May of this year; beginning in May, the mine switched to a five-day operation schedule.

"A small reserve of oil shale has been produced for the vacation period," Vainola explained. "The plan is to return to a seve-day work-week beginning in October. But if market conditions demand it, then we are capable of doing so sooner as well."

Ojamaa mine's May output reached 360,000 tons. According to Bojenko, the mine is currently operating on a six-day schedule, with plans to continue to do so through the summer.

"Our goal is to produce four million tons of oil shale this year and we are currently right on schedule," VKG's public relations manager said. "In order to cover the needs of our oil refineries, however, a little bit more is needed." According to her, VKG is also in negotiations for the purchase of oil shale. In addition to VKG and Eeesti Energia, Kiviõli Keemiatööstus also mines oil shale.

Record-setting levels not likely to continue

Vainola found that there is no reason to believe that May's record-level oil shale consumption will continue in the coming months.

"A number of conditions favorable for us coincided in May," he explained regarding why it wa possible to keep Estonian power stations running at full power. "There was less hydropower in Scandinavia this spring than projected. Nuclear plants in a number of regions were under repair for longer than usual. We have also been able to sell more electricity thanks to the fact that the Nordbalt submarine power cable between Lithuania and Sweden has been out of commission more frequently than expected."

The high demand for oil shale was also supported by the fact that the reliability of the new Enefit280 oil refinery has improved significantly.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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