Just after Eesti Energia's surprise announcement that it had purchased a US oil shale firm for the purpose of developing an oil extraction facility in the state of Utah, scientists in Estonia have raised questions about the project's viability.
On March 9, Eesti Energia said it had signed an agreement to buy the Oil Shale Exploration Company (OSEC) for an undisclosed sum. The deal gives it development rights and access to 3.1 billion tons of Utah shale, which Eesti Energia plans to process at a facility it will construct.
However Jüri Soone, former head of the Tallinn University of Technology's Shale Institute, said that the difference between Estonian and American shale may cause problems for the company, rus.err.ee reported.
According to Soone, although it would be possible for Eesti Energia to use its extraction technology on other types of shale, the high percentage of nitrous compounds in the US shale would limit oil production. These compounds would have to be filtered out of the shale oil, driving its production price up.
Academician Anto Raukas echoed Soone's view about the shale composition and its potential effect on the extraction process.
“It's too early to say whether this project can succeed or fail," said Raukas.
As a negative example Raukas cited Eesti Energia's project in Jordan, where the company has spent years developing oil shale deposits. He said that the low quality with high sulfur content of the Jordanian shale made production there pointless.
Sources within Eesti Energia told rus.err.ee that the Utah project was very risky on the technology side.
Eesti Energia board member Meelis Atonen agreed that the project carries certain risks, but said he wouldn't discuss details because he didn't know whether the information was confidential.
Meanwhile Eesti Energia spokeswoman Marina Bachmann denied that there were any risks and said that Eesti Energia had done all the necessary tests on the Utah shale before buying the US company. “If the production of oil shale in the US wouldn't be profitable, we wouldn't have bought the Oil Shale Exploration Company,” she said.