Oil shale in Estonia

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A brownish-grey wall of kukersite is shown with a blue-handled pick axe somewhat to the right of its centre. Fragments of other rocks are visible; most are a little wider than the pick axe handle.
Outcrop of Ordovician kukersite oil shale, northern Estonia

Oil shale (Estonian: põlevkivi) is a strategic energy resource that constitutes about 4% of Estonia's gross domestic product. The oil shale industry in Estonia is one of the most developed in the world.[1] In 2012, the country's oil shale industry employed 6,500 people – about 1% of the national workforce. Of all the oil shale fired power stations in the world, the two largest are in this country.[2][3] In 2012, 70% of mined oil shale was used for electricity generation, accounting for about 85% of Estonia's total electricity production. A smaller proportion of the mined oil shale is used to produce shale oil, a type of synthetic oil extracted from shale by pyrolysis, which is sufficient to keep Estonia as the second largest shale oil producer in the world after China. In addition, oil shale and its products are used in Estonia for district heating and as a feedstock material for the cement industry.

There are two kinds of oil shale in Estonia, both of which are sedimentary rocks laid down during the Ordovician geologic period.[4] Graptolitic argillite is the larger resource, but, because its organic matter content is relatively low, it is not used industrially. The other one is kukersite, which has been mined for almost a hundred years and is expected to last for another 25–30 years. By the end of 2012, the total kukersite resource was 4.8 billion tonnes, of which up to 650 million tonnes was recoverable. Kukersite deposits in Estonia account for 1.1% of global oil shale deposits.[5]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Estonian oil shale was described by several scientists. It was used as a low-grade fuel; however, its industrial use did not commence until 1916. Production of shale oil began in 1921 and oil shale was first used to generate electrical power in 1924.[6] Shortly thereafter, systematic research into oil shale and its products began, and in 1938 a department of mining was established at Tallinn Technical University. After World War II, Estonian oil shale gas was used in Saint Petersburg (then called Leningrad) and in northern cities in Estonia as a substitute for natural gas. Increased need for electricity in the north-west of the Soviet Union led to the construction of large oil shale-fired power stations. Oil shale extraction peaked in 1980. Subsequently, launch of nuclear reactors in Russia, particularly the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station, reduced demand for electricity produced from oil shale. This reduced demand, followed by a post-Soviet restructuring of the industry in the 1990s, led to a decrease in oil shale mining. After decreasing two decades, oil shale mining started to increase again at the beginning of the 21st century.

The industry continues to have a serious impact on the environment. In 2012, it produced about 70% of Estonia's ordinary waste, 82% of its hazardous waste, and more than 70% of its greenhouse gas emissions. It alters the water circulation, lowers the groundwater level, and spoils the water quality. Water pumped from the mines and used by oil shale-fired power stations, exceeds 90% of all water used in Estonia. Leachates from waste heaps pollute surface and groundwater. Former and current oil shale mines cover about one percent of Estonia's territory.


Graptolitic argillite[edit]

Main article: Graptolitic argillite
A specimen of Estonian graptolite argillite. The shiny portions are pyrite.
A specimen of graptolite argillite containing pyrite (FeS2) from the Türisalu cliff, an outcrop of the Türisalu Formation
An isopach map of the Ordovician graptolitic argillite deposits in northern Estonia, indicating thickness in meters

Estonian graptolitic argillite (also known as dictyonema argillite, dictyonema oil shale, dictyonema shale or alum shale) is a marine-type of black shale, belonging to the marinite-type of oil shales.[7][8] Although the name dictyonema argillite is widely used instead of graptolitic argillite, it is now considered a misnomer as the graptolite fossils in the rock, earlier considered dictyonemids, were reclassified during the 1980s as members of the genus Rhabdinopora.[8][9][10]

Graptolitic argillite was formed some 480 million years ago during the Early Ordovician under a marine environment.[11] In mainland Estonia, it occurs at the foot of the North Estonian Klint, ranging from the Pakri Peninsula to Narva in an area covering about 11,000 square kilometres (4,200 sq mi).[11][12] When findings in the western Estonian islands are included, its extent increases to about 12,200 square kilometres (4,700 sq mi).[8] The thickness of the layer varies from less than 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in) to a maximum of 8 metres (26 ft) in western Estonia, as does its subsurface depth, which ranges from 10 to 90 metres (33 to 295 ft).[12]

Resources of graptolitic argillite in Estonia have been estimated at 60–70 billion tonnes.[7][11] Although resources of graptolitic argillite exceed that of kukersite, attempts to use it as an energy source have been unsuccessful due to its low calorific value and high sulfur content.[4][12][13] Its organic content ranges from 10 to 20% and its sulfur content from 2 to 4%. Correspondingly, its calorific value is only 5–8 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg; 1,200–1,900 kcal/kg) and its Fischer Assay oil yield is 3–5%.[12] However, graptolitic argillite resource in Estonia contains a potential 2.1 billion tonnes of oil. In addition, it contains 5.67 million tonnes of uranium, which makes it one of the main potential sources of uranium in Europe, 16.53 million tonnes of zinc, and 12.76 million tonnes of molybdenum. There is as yet no economical and environmentally friendly technology to extract these metals or the oil.[13]


Main article: Kukersite
A map of kukersite deposits in northern Estonia and Russia. The upper, northern third of the map shows the bordering water bodies. The Baltic Sea lies to the left of centre and the Gulf of Finland to the right.
Location of kukersite deposits within the Baltic Oil Shale Basin in northern Estonia and Russia

Kukersite is a light-brown marine-type Late Ordovician oil shale formed some 460 million years ago.[14] It was named as kuckers by the Baltic German geologist Carl Friedrich Schmidt in the mid-19th century, and as kukersite by the Russian paleobotanist Mikhail Zalessky in 1916.[15][16][17] The name reflects the German name for Kukruse Manor where oil shale samples were obtained.[16][17][18]

Kukersite deposits in Estonia are the world's second highest-grade oil shale deposits after the Australian torbanite.[19] Its organic content varies from 15% to 55%, averaging over 40%. Correspondingly, its mean calorific value is 15 MJ/kg (3,600 kcal/kg).[19] Conversion ratio of its organic content into usable energy (shale oil and oil shale gas) is between 65 and 67%[19][20] and its Fischer Assay oil yield is 30 to 47%.[21]

A photograph of northern Estonian kukersite. The rock is chocolate brown and the apparently abstract white branching figures are fossils.
Fossils in northern Estonian kukersite

The principal organic component of kukersite is telalginite, which originated from the fossil green alga Gloeocapsomorpha prisca, deposited in a shallow marine basin.[21] Kukersite lies at depths of 7 to 170 metres (23 to 558 ft).[12][20] The most significant kukersite deposits in Estonia – the Estonian deposit and the Tapa deposit – cover about 3,000 to 5,000 square kilometres (1,200 to 1,900 sq mi)[12][22][23] and together with the Leningrad deposit, which is an extension of the Estonian deposit, form the Baltic Oil Shale Basin.[24][25] The Estonian deposit, which covers about 2,000 square kilometres (770 sq mi), is used industrially. It consists of 23 exploration and mining fields. The Tapa deposit is not accounted as a reserve due to its lower calorific value, which makes its extraction economically inexpedient.[26][27] In northern Estonia there are 50 layers of kukersite; the six lowest of these form a 2.5-to-3-metre (8 ft 2 in to 9 ft 10 in) thick mineable bed.[4] In this area kukersite lies near the surface. To the south and west it lies deeper and its thickness and quality decrease.[27]

According to the International Energy Agency, Estonia's kukersite represents about 1.1% of global and 17% of European oil shale resources.[5] The total kukersite resources in Estonia are estimated to be about 4.8 billion tonnes, including 1.3 billion tonnes of economically proven and probable reserves.[28][29] Economically proven and probable reserves consist of mineable deposits with energy ratings of at least 35 gigajoules per square metre and calorific values of at least 8 MJ/kg, located in areas without environmental restrictions.[27][28][30] Up to 650 million tonnes of economically proven and probable reserves are designated as recoverable.[29]


Early history[edit]

According to a 1787 report by German scientist Peter Simon Pallas, 18th-century naturalist and explorer Johann Anton Güldenstädt had in 1725 described a "burning rock" in Jõhvi,[17][26][31] but Güldenstädt's published travel notes do not mention the incident.[17] Therefore, the earliest reliably documented record of oil shale in Estonia, authored by the Baltic German publicist and linguist August Wilhelm Hupel, dates to 1777.[17][26] Estonian oil shale, based on samples originating from the Kohala Manor near Rakvere, was first described by Anton-Johann Engelhardt, an official of Tsarist Russia who was responsible for the economy of Livonia, at the meeting of the St. Petersburg Free Economic Society in 1789.[16][17][32] The first scientific research into the rock's oil yield, using samples from land belonging to the Vanamõisa and Kohala Manors, was published at the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1791 by the German chemist Johann Gottlieb Georgi.[17][26] In 1838 and 1839, the Baltic German geologist Gregor von Helmersen published a detailed description of the deposits of kukersite in Vanamõisa and graptolitic argillite in Keila-Joa.[17] In 1838 he made a thorough experiment to distil oil from the Vanamõisa oil shale deposit.[17][33][34]

During the 1850s, large-scale works were undertaken in Estonia to transform excessively wet land into land suitable for agriculture; this included the digging of drainage ditches. In the process, previously unknown layers of oil shale were discovered in several locations. In 1850–1857, these occurrences were studied by the Baltic German geologist Carl Friedrich Schmidt.[16] Russian chemist Aleksandr Shamarin, who at the end of the 1860s studied the composition and properties of oil shale originating from the Kukruse area, concluded it made sense to use oil shale for production of gas and as a solid fuel. However, he considered shale oil production unprofitable.[16] During the rest of the 19th century oil shale was used locally as a low-grade fuel only.[35] For example, in the 1870s, Robert von Toll, owner of the Kukruse Manor, started to use oil shale as a fuel for the manor's distillery.[36] There were failed attempts to use graptolitic argillite as fertilizer in the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century, geologist and engineer Carl August von Mickwitz studied self-ignition of graptolitic argillite near Paldiski.[37] At the University of Tartu oil shale geology and chemistry analyses were conducted during the 19th century by Georg Paul Alexander Petzholdt, Alexander Gustav von Schrenk, Carl Ernst Heinrich Schmidt, among others.[26][35]

Beginning of oil shale industry[edit]

A monument commemorating the beginning of the oil shale industry, consisting of a grey concrete block about 1.5 metres wide and three-quarters of a metre deep. The block is topped by a black metal hopper filled with rocks. A blue plaque with white Estonian-language lettering just above the block explains its significance.
Historical monument at the location where the first tonnes of oil shale were mined in Pavandu, Kohtla-Järve

Analysis of Estonian oil shale resources and mining possibilities intensified during the early 20th century while Estonia was part of the Russian Empire. Industrial development was under way in Saint Petersburg (known as Petrograd in 1914–24), but regional fuel resources were in short supply. A large shale oil extraction plant for processing Estonian oil shale was proposed in 1910. The outbreak of World War I, coupled with a fuel supply crisis, accelerated the pace of the research.[35]

In June 1916, the Russian geologist Nikolay Pogrebov oversaw mining of the first tonnes of oil shale at Pavandu and delivered it to Saint Petersburg (then Petrograd) Polytechnic Institute for large-scale experiments.[38][39] This is considered the beginning of the Estonian oil shale industry.[9] It happened more than half a century after oil shale industry had emerged in Scotland which had the leading oil shale industry that time, but a decade before it happened in China, which along of Estonia is the other leading oil shale-exploiting country nowadays.[40] In total, 640–690 tonnes of oil shale were sent to Saint Petersburg for tests in 1916.[16] Oil shale was tested at the Saint Petersburg Polytechnic Institute's gasworks and was also burned in boiler houses. For large-scale oil shale utilisation, the construction of oil shale-fired power stations and oil shale thermal processing facilities was planned.[6] In 1916, two Saint Petersburg's private companies which were established specially for the oil shale mining, Böckel & Co. and Mutschnik & Co., began surface mining at Kukruse and Järve, respectively.[16][41] In the following year both companies terminated their mining activities.[42]

In 1917, the special commissioner of the Russian Provisional Government for oil shale purchasing and stockpiling began preparing an oil shale mine at Pavandu.[42] In February 1918, the area surrounding the oil shale basin in northeast Estonia was occupied by German troops. During the German occupation, mining activities were carried out at Pavandu by the German company Internationales Baukonsortium (English: International Construction Consortium), including sending oil shale to Germany for investigation and experimentation. This work used a retort constructed by Julius Pintsch AG, known as a Pintsch generator. In late 1918, German forces left Estonia, by which time no more than a single trainload of oil shale had been mined and sent to Germany.[43]

Developments in interwar Estonia[edit]

A black-and-white photo of the shale oil processing facility at Kohtla-Järve, dated to 1937. A rail line is shown in the lower third of the photo. A limestone-walled rock hopper tower building and a generator-house are located in the background. Another smaller building is located in the left side of the photo. Several oil tanks are located in the right side of the photo.
Kohtla-Järve shale oil extraction plant (Esimene Eesti Põlevkivitööstus, 1937. Photo by Carl Sarap)
A black-and-white photo of a shale oil extraction plant at Kohtla operated by New Consolidated Gold Fields Limited
Kohtla shale oil extraction plant (New Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd., 1931)

After Estonia gained independence, the state owned oil shale enterprise, Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (English: Estonian State Oil Shale Industry), was established as a department of the Ministry for Trade and Industry on 24 November 1918. The enterprise, later named Esimene Eesti Põlevkivitööstus (English: First Estonian Oil Shale Industry), was the predecessor of Viru Keemia Grupp, one of the current shale oil producers in Estonia. It took over the existing Pavandu open-pit mine, and opened new mines at Vanamõisa (1919), Kukruse (1920), and Käva (1924).[6][43] Also, several private investors, including investors from abroad, initiated oil shale industries in Estonia by opening mines at Kiviõli (1922), Küttejõu (1925), Ubja (1926), Viivikonna (1936), and Kohtla (1937).[6][44] Pavandu mine was closed in 1927 and Vanamõisa mine was closed in 1931.[44] While in 1918 only 16 tonnes and in 1919 only 9,631 tonnes of oil shale was mined, the annual output exceeded one million tonnes in 1937. In 1940, the annual output reached to 1,891,674 tonnes.[45]

Initially, oil shale was used primarily in the cement industry, as also for firing locomotive furnaces, and as a household fuel. The first major industrial consumers of oil shale were cement factories in Kunda and Aseri.[6][46] By 1925, all locomotives in Estonia were powered by oil shale.[47]

Shale oil production started in Estonia in 1921, when Riigi Põlevkivitööstus built 14 experimental oil shale processing retorts in Kohtla-Järve.[6][48] These vertical retorts used the method developed by Julius Pintsch AG that would later evolve into the current Kiviter processing technology.[48] Along with the shale oil extraction plant, an oil shale research laboratory was founded in 1921.[41] The German-owned company Eesti Kiviõli (German: Estländische Steinöl, English: Estonian Stone Oil, predecessor of Kiviõli Keemiatööstus), affiliated with G. Scheel & Co. and Mendelssohn & Co., was established in 1922. By the end of 1930s, it became the largest shale oil producer in Estonia.[49][50] Around the company's mine and oil plant, the Kiviõli settlement (now town) was formed like Küttejõu settlement (now district of Kiviõli) formed around the mine owned by Eesti Küttejõud. In 1924, the British investor-owned Estonian Oil Development Syndicate Ltd. (later Vanamõisa Oilfields Ltd.) purchased an open-pit mine in Vanamõisa and opened a shale oil extraction plant which was abandoned in 1931 due to technical problems.[4][48][51] The Swedish–Norwegian consortium Eestimaa Õlikonsortsium (Swedish: Estländska Oljeskifferkonsortiet; English: Estonian Oil Consortium), controlled by Marcus Wallenberg, was founded in Sillamäe in 1926.[51][52] New Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd. of the United Kingdom built a shale oil extraction plant at Kohtla-Nõmme in 1931.[6][48] This facility continued to operate until 1961.[6]

In 1934, Eesti Kiviõli and New Consolidated Gold Fields established the service station chain Trustivapaa Bensiini (now: Teboil) in Finland which in 1940 sold more shale-oil-derived gasoline in Finland than did the entire conventional gasoline market in Estonia.[53] Since 1935, Estonian shale oil was supplied to the German Kriegsmarine as a ship fuel.[49][54] In 1938, 45% of Estonian shale oil was exported accounting for 8% of Estonia's total export.[55] Although the price of oil shale-based gasoline was at least triple that of global gasoline prices, high production and bilateral agreements with Germany supported its export.[53] In 1939, Estonia produced 181,000 tonnes of shale oil, including 22,500 tonnes of oil that were suitable gasoline equivalents. The mining and oil industry employed 6,150 persons.[49]

The oil shale-fired electrical power industry started in 1924 when the Tallinn Power Station switched to oil shale.[22] In 1933, it reached a capacity of 22 megawatts (MW). Other oil shale-fired power stations were built in Püssi (3.7 MW), Kohtla (3.7 MW), Kunda (2.3 MW), and Kiviõli (0.8 MW). At the beginning of World War II, the total capacity of oil shale-fired power stations was 32.5 MW.[6] Only Tallinn and Püssi power stations were connected to the grid.[56]

On 9 May 1922 the first international discussion of Estonian kukersite took place at the 64th meeting of the Institution of Petroleum Technologists.[38] Systematic research into oil shale and its products began at Tartu University's Oil Shale Research Laboratory in 1925, initiated by professor Paul Kogerman.[33][57] In 1937, the Geological Committee under the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Institute of Natural Resources, an independent academical institution, were established. A department of mining was established at Tallinn Technical University in 1938.[38] Estonian oil shale industries conducted tests of oil shale samples from Australia, Bulgaria, Germany and South Africa.[58]

Developments in German-occupied Estonia[edit]

Soon after the Soviet occupation in 1940, the entire oil shale industry was nationalised and subordinated to the Mining Office and later to the General Directorate of Mining and Fuel Industry of the Peoples' Commissariat for Light Industry.[59] Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and the industry's infrastructure was largely destroyed by retreating Soviet forces.[49] During the subsequent German occupation, the industry was merged into a company named Baltische Öl GmbH.[49][59] Baltische Öl became the largest industry in the Estonian territory.[60] This entity was subordinated to Kontinentale Öl, a company that had exclusive rights to oil production in German-occupied territories.[49][59]

The primary purpose of the industry was production of oil for the German Army.[59] In 1943, after the German troops retreated from the Caspian oil region, Estonian oil shale became increasingly important. On 16 March 1943, Hermann Göring issued a secret order stating that "development and utilisation of Estonian oil shale industry is the most important military-economic task in the territories of the former Baltic states".[61] On 21 June 1943, Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler issued an order to send as many male Jews as possible to the oil shale mining.[61][62]

Baltische Öl consisted of five units (Kiviõli, Küttejõu, Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe, and Kohtla) which were partially restored previously existed industries. In addition, Baltische Öl started construction of new mining and shale oil extraction complex in Ahtme; however, it did not become operational.[49][63] Prisoners of war and forced labour made up about two-thirds of the work force in these units.[49]

While Soviet troops were advancing into Estonia during 1944, about 200 Estonian oil shale specialists were evacuated to Schömberg, Germany, to work at an oil shale industry there, codenamed Operation Desert (Unternehmen Wüste).[57][59] Shale oil extraction plants in Estonia were destroyed and mines were ignited or inundated by the retreating Germans.[49][64] Existing oil shale-fired power stations were also destroyed.[64]

Developments in Soviet Estonia[edit]

Amount of mined oil shale in Estonia (millions of metric tonnes from 1916 to 2013. Source: John R. Dyni,[40] Statistical Office of Estonia)

In 1945–1946 the mining industry was merged into Eesti Põlevkivi (Russian: Эстонсланец, English: Estonian Oil Shale, now Eesti Energia Kaevandused) under the General Directorate of Oil Shale Industry of the USSR (Glavslanets).[65] Shale oil extraction, except the Kiviõli and Kohtla-Nõmme plants, was merged into the Kohtla-Järve shale oil combinate (Russian: Сланцехим, now Viru Keemia Grupp) under the General Directorate of Synthetic Liquid Fuel and Gas of the USSR (Glavgaztopprom). Both organisations were directed from Moscow.[66]

New mines were opened in Ahtme (1948), Jõhvi (No. 2, 1949), Sompa (1949), Tammiku (1951), and in the area between Käva and Sompa (No. 4, 1953).[26] The Küttejõu open-pit mine was closed in 1947 and the Küttejõu underground mine was merged with the Kiviõli mine in 1951.[67] The Ubja mine was closed in 1959.[44] After the construction of large oil shale-fired power stations, the oil shale demand was increased and consequently new larger mines were constructed: the underground mines Viru (1965) and Estonia (1972) along with the open-pit mines Sirgala (1963), Narva (1970) and Oktoobri (1974; later named Aidu).[26] Correspondingly, several exhausted smaller mines like Kukruse (1967), Käva (1972), No. 2 (1973), No. 4 (1975), and Kiviõli (1987) were closed.[26][68] The Estonia Mine became the largest oil shale mine in the world.[69] Because of the success of oil shale-based power generation, Estonian oil shale mining peaked in 1980 at 31.35 million tonnes and power generation peaked at the same year at 18.9 TWh.[27][70][71] The industry declined during the two decades that followed this peak. Demand for electric power generated from oil shale was reduced by construction of nuclear power stations in the Russian SFSR, particularly by the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station.[70] At the end of 1988, the largest underground fire in Estonia which continued 81 days and caused serious pollution of ground and surface waters, happened in the Estonia Mine.[72]

A colour photograph of the shale oil facility in Kohtla-Järve. The lower third of the photo is occupied by a curving driveway and the cars parked along it.
Old shale oil extraction plant in Kohtla-Järve (2009)

The shale oil industry at Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli was redeveloped. In 1945, the first tunnel kiln was restored and by the end of the 1940s four tunnel kilns located in Kiviõli and Kohtla-Nõmme had been restored. German prisoners of war contributed most of the labour.[73] Between 1946 and 1963, 13 Kiviter-type retorts were built in Kohtla-Järve and eight in Kiviõli.[6] In 1947, a pilot Galoter retort was built at the Ilmarine engineering plant in Tallinn. This unit, operating until 1956, was capable of processing 2.5 tonnes of oil shale per day and was used for modelling the next generation commercial scale retorts.[74][75] The first Galoter-type commercial scale pilot retorts were built at Kiviõli in 1953 and 1963 with respective capacities of 200 and 500 tonnes of oil shale per day. The first of these retorts closed in 1963 and the second in 1981.[6][74][76][77] The Narva Oil Plant, annexed to the Eesti Power Station and operating two Galoter-type 3,000-tonnes-per day retorts, was commissioned in 1980.[6][77] Started as a pilot plant, the process of converting it to a commercial-scale plant took about 20 years.[76]

In 1948 an oil shale gas plant in Kohtla-Järve became operational and for several decades the oil shale gas was used as a substitute for natural gas in Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) and in northern Estonian cities.[55][78] It was the first time in history when synthetic gas from oil shale was used in households.[78] To enable its delivery, a 200-kilometre (120 mi) pipeline from Kohtla-Järve to Saint Peterburg was built, followed by a 150-kilometre (93 mi) pipeline from Kohtla-Järve to Tallinn.[78] During the 1950s, unsuccessful tests of oil shale underground gasification were conducted at Kiviõli.[4][79][80] In 1962 and 1963, converting oil shale gas into ammonium was tested; however, for industrial production oil shale gas was replaced with natural gas.[81] Although this gas had become uneconomical by 1958, production continued and was even expanded.[82] Oil shale gas production peaked in 1976 at 597.4 million cubic metres (21.10×10^9 cu ft),[83] but production ceased in 1987.[6] In total, 276 generators were operated for the gas production.[6]

A colour photograph of the Balti Power Station, highlighting its towers against a partly cloudy sky
The Balti Power Station (2007)

In 1949, the 48 MW Kohtla-Järve Power Station – the first power station in the world to use pulverised oil shale at an industrial scale – was commissioned, followed by the 72.5 MW Ahtme Power Station in 1951.[6] To ensure sufficient electricity supply in Estonia, Latvia and north-west Russia, The Balti Power Station (1,430 MW) was built between 1959 and 1971 and the Eesti Power Station (1,610 MW) was built between 1969 and 1973.[27] The stations are collectively known as the Narva Power Stations and are the world's two largest oil shale-fired power stations.[27][84] Both power stations burned pulverised oil shale. In 1988 Moscow-based authorities planned a third oil shale-fired power station in Narva with a capacity of 2,500 MW, together with a new mine at Kuremäe. The concept, disclosed at the time of the Phosphorite War and the Singing Revolution, met strong local opposition and was never implemented.[56]

Between 1946 and 1952, uranium compounds were extracted from locally mined graptolitic argillite at the Sillamäe Processing Plant (now: Silmet).[85][86][87] More than 60 tonnes of uranium compounds (corresponding to 22.5 tonnes of elemental uranium) were produced.[8][11] Some sources notes that uranium produced in Sillamäe was used for construction of the first Soviet atomic bomb; however, this information is not confirmed by the archive materials.[37]

An oil shale research institute (now a department within Tallinn University of Technology) was founded at Kohtla-Järve in 1958.[88] Preliminary research into oil shale-based chemical production began the same year. These investigations explored the potential for its use in bitumen, synthetic construction materials, detergents, synthetic leathers, synthetic fibres, plastics, paints, soaps, glues, and pesticides.[89] Between 1959 and 1985, 5.275 billion cubic metres (186.3×10^9 cu ft) of mineral wool were produced from oil shale coke, a solid residue of oil shale.[90] In 1968, a branch of the Skochinsky Institute of Mining was established in Kohtla-Järve,[38] and in 1984 the scientific-technical journal Oil Shale was founded in Estonia.[33]

Developments in independent Estonia[edit]

A colour photograph of a train with open cars carrying oil shale near Ahtme, dated to June 2007. The locomotive is on the left.
Oil shale cargo train near Ahtme (2007)

In the 1990s, after Estonia regained independence, the country underwent a restructuring of the economy, causing the collapse of a large part of the heavy industry sector. This collapse led to a decrease in the consumption of electricity and thus a decrease in the need for the oil shale that was mined to produce it.[12][55] Electricity and shale oil export to former Soviet markets largely ceased.[12] Due to a decrease in demand, the Tammiku and Sompa mines closed in 1999 and those at Kohtla and Ahtme closed in 2001.[68]

In 1995, state-owned shale oil producers in Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli were merged into the single company named RAS Kiviter.[91] In 1997, Kiviter was privatized and a year later it declared insolvency. Its factories in Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli were sold separately and new oil producers – Viru Keemia Grupp and Kiviõli Keemiatööstus – emerged.[12]

In 1995, the Government of Estonia started negotiations with American company NRG Energy to create a joint venture on the basis of the Narva Power Stations, the largest consumer of oil shale in Estonia. As a part of the deal, 51% of the government-owned shares in the oil shale mining company Eesti Põlevkivi was transferred to the Narva Power Stations.[92] The proposed deal with NRG Energy met a strong public and political opposition and was cancelled after NRG Energy failed the deadline to secure financing for the project.[93][94] Consequently, the Government transferred its remained shares in Eesti Põlevkivi to a state-owned company Eesti Energia, a parent company of the Narva Power Stations, and Eesti Põlevkivi became a fully owned subsidiary of Eesti Energia.[95]

Oil shale production started to increase again in the beginning of the 21st century. In 2000, the open-pit mines at Viivikonna, Sirgala and Narva were merged into the single Narva open-pit mine.[96] Since 2003, several new mines were opened: the Põhja-Kiviõli open-pit mine in 2003, the Ubja open-pit mine in 2005, and the Ojamaa underground mine in 2010.[4][44] By 2006, after 90 years of major mining in Estonia, the total amount of mined oil shale reached one billion tonnes.[9][97] The exhausted Aidu open-pit mine was closed in 2012, followed a year later by the Viru underground mine.[98][99]

In 2004, two power units with circulating fluidised bed combustion boilers were put into operation at the Narva Power Stations.[100] Construction of the Auvere Power Station, located next to the existing Eesti Power Station, began in 2012.[101] In the end of 2012, the Ahtme Power Station was closed.

In 2008, Eesti Energia established a joint venture, Enefit Outotec Technology, with the Finnish technology company Outotec. The venture sought to develop and commercialise a modified Galoter process–the Enefit process–that would enhance the existing technology by using circulating fluidised beds.[102] In 2013, Enefit Outotec Technology opened an Enefit testing plant in Frankfurt.[103][104]

Kiviõli Keemiatööstus began to test two Galoter-type retorts in 2006.[4] VKG Oil opened new Galoter-type oil plants called Petroter in December 2009 and in October 2014, and started construction of the third Petroter plant in April 2014.[105][106][107] Eesti Energia opened a new generation Galoter-type plant using Enefit 280 technology in 2012.[108]

Economic impact[edit]

A colour photograph of the Põhja-Kiviõli oil shale mine near Kohtla-Järve, dated to 2007. Machinery and supporting devices are visible in the lower half and a stream of water traverses the centre of the photo. A cliff on the left is topped with trees; the low hills on the right are bare.
Põhja-Kiviõli oil shale mine near Kohtla-Järve (2007)

The National Development Plan for the Utilisation of Oil Shale 2008–2015 describes oil shale as a strategic energy resource.[109] Other mineral resources in Estonia that are mined currently are peat, dolostone, clays, limestone, sand and gravel. Potentially mineable resources include granite, iron ore and phosophorite.[110][111]

The oil shale industry in Estonia is one of the most developed in the world.[1] Estonia is the only country in the world that uses oil shale as its primary energy source.[112] In 2012, oil shale supplied 70% of Estonia's total primary energy and accounted for 4% of Estonia's gross domestic product.[29][113] About 6,500 people (1.1% of the workforce in Estonia) were directly employed in the oil shale industry.[114] In 2012, the state revenue from oil shale production was about €90 million, including €34 million of excise duty and labour taxes, and €56 million of environmental charges. There are no royalties. The operating profit of shale oil producers was about €91 million.[29]

In 2011, about one-third of Estonian public research, development and demonstration expenditures (€3.1 million) went to the oil shale sector.[115] A new development plan for 2016–2030 is at a preparatory stage.[29]


Dragline excavator in the Narva open-pit mine (2005)

Estonia has adopted a national development plan that limits the annual mining of oil shale to 20 million tonnes.[109] At this rate, mineable reserves will last for 25–30 years.[29] In 2012, 15.86 million tonnes of oil shale were mined.[115] Mining losses were about four million tonnes.[29] As of 2014, five oil shale mines are in operation; three are open-pit mines and two are underground mines. The mines are owned by four companies. Plans for opening several new mines are in the preparatory phase. Historically, the ratio of underground mining to open-pit mining has been approximately even, but as usable deposits close to the surface become scarcer, underground mining will probably increase.[116]

The Estonia underground mine at Väike-Pungerja, operated by state owned Eesti Energia Kaevandused, is the largest oil shale mine in the world.[69][117] The other underground mine, operated by privately owned Viru Keemia Grupp, is located at Ojamaa.[118] Both mines use the room and pillar mining method.[4][118] Oil shale mined at Ojamaa is transported to the processing plant by a unique 13-kilometre (8.1 mi) conveyor belt. Although there are similar conveyors in operation in other countries, the one at Ojamaa is an unusually challenging installation since its path contains many curves and sharp turns.[119]

The Narva open-pit mine is operated by Eesti Energia Kaevandused, and the Põhja-Kiviõli open-pit mine is operated by privately owned Kiviõli Keemiatööstus. Both mines use highly selective extraction in three layers of seams.[4] The Narva mine uses a technology that involves breaking up both the overburden and the targeted deposits by blasting and then stripping the rock with relatively large-bucket (10–35 cubic metres or 350–1,240 cubic feet) excavators. The third open-pit mine, operated by Kunda Nordic Tsement which belongs to German HeidelbergCement group, is located at Ubja.[4]

In 2012, 70% of mined oil shale was used for electricity production, 27% for shale oil production, and 3% for thermal energy, cement and chemical products.[29]

Oil shale mines in Estonia[44]
Mine Type Opened Closed Owner(s)
Pavandu open-pit 1917 1927 Special commissioner (1917)
Internationales Baukonsortium (1918)
Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (1918–1927)
Vanamõisa open-pit 1919 1931 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (1919–1924)
Estonian Oil Development Syndicate Ltd. (1924–1930)
Vanamõisa Oilfields Ltd. (1930–1931)
Kukruse open-pit 1920 1920 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus
Küttejõu open-pit 1925 1946 Eesti Küttejõud (1925–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1946)
Kukruse underground 1921 1967 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (1925–1936)
Esimene Eesti Põlevkivitööstus (1936–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1967)
Kiviõli open-pit 1922 1931 Eesti Kiviõli
Ubja underground 1924 1959 Port Kunda (1941–1944)
Punane Kunda (1944–1959)
Käva underground 1924 1972 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (1924–1936)
Esimene Eesti Põlevkivitööstus (1936–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1972)
Käva open-pit 1925 1930 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus
Ubja open-pit 1926 1955 Port Kunda (1941–1944)
Punane Kunda (1944–1955)
Pavandu underground 1925 1927 Riigi Põlevkivitööstus
Kiviõli underground 1929 1987 Eesti Kiviõli (1929–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1987)
Küttejõu underground 1933 19511 Eesti Küttejõud (1933–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1951)
Viivikonna open-pit 1936 20002 Eestimaa Õlikonsortsium (1936–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–2000)
Kohtla open-pit 1937 1959 New Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd. (1937–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1959)
Viivikonna underground 1940 1954 Eestimaa Õlikonsortsium (1940–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1954)
Kohtla underground 1940 1999 New Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd. (1940–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Eesti Põlevkivi (1944–1999)
Ahtme underground 1948 2001 Eesti Põlevkivi
Sompa underground 1948 1999 Eesti Põlevkivi
Sillamäe3 underground 1949 1952 Sillamäe Processing Plant
Mine No. 2 underground 1949 1973 Eesti Põlevkivi
Tammiku underground 1951 1999 Eesti Põlevkivi
Mine No. 4 underground 1953 1975 Eesti Põlevkivi
Sirgala open-pit 1962 20002 Eesti Põlevkivi
Viru underground 1965 2012 Eesti Põlevkivi (1965–2009)
Eesti Energia Kaevandused (2009–2012)
Narva open-pit 1970 ...4 Eesti Põlevkivi (1970–2009)
Eesti Energia Kaevandused (2009–...)
Estonia underground 1972 ...4 Eesti Põlevkivi (1972–2009)
Eesti Energia Kaevandused (2009–...)
Aidu open-pit 1974 2012 Eesti Põlevkivi (1974–2009)
Eesti Energia Kaevandused (2009–2012)
Põhja-Kiviõli open-pit 2004 ...4 Kiviõli Keemiatööstus
Ubja (new mine) open-pit 2005 ...4 Kunda Nordic Tsement
Ojamaa underground 2010 ...4 Viru Keemia Grupp
1 Merged into the Kiviõli underground mine
2 Merged into the Narva open-pit
3 Mining of graptolitic argillite
4 Not closed, still operating

Electricity and heat generation[edit]

Eesti Power Station (2004)

The National Development Plan for the Utilisation of Oil Shale 2008–2015 prioritises oil shale as a resource for ensuring Estonia's electricity supply and energy security.[120][121] However, the share of oil shale in Estonia's electricity and heat production is set to decrease due to the European Union's climate policy as well as the country's recognition of the environmental impact of oil shale-fired power stations and need to diversify the national energy balance.[122] Although Estonia has the right to allocate a gradually decreasing limited number of emission allowances free of charge, this will be phased out by 2020.[123] According to the International Energy Agency, Estonia should adopt the energy strategy in order to reduce the share of oil shale in the primary energy supply by improving the efficiency of shale-fired power stations and increasing the use of other energy sources such as renewable energy and natural gas.[124]

In 2012, 70% of oil shale mined in Estonia was used for power generation,[29] and about 85% of Estonia's electricity was generated from oil shale.[115][125] About 29% of produced electricity was exported to Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania.[29][125]

Eesti Energia owns the largest oil shale-fuelled power stations (Narva Power Stations) in the world.[2][3] In addition, a new 300 MW station, which will use circulating fluidised bed boiler technology, is under construction in Auvere.[126]

In 2010, 11.4% of the heat supply in Estonia was generated by direct combustion of oil shale and 5.88% by combustion of shale oil. Shale oil was used as a fuel by 9.36% of all boiler houses in Estonia.[127] Heat produced by co-generation at the Balti Power Station is used for district heating of Narva, the third largest city in Estonia with 58,700 inhabitants (2013).[128] The co-generation plants in Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe, and Kiviõli burn oil shale to produce electrical power and supply district heating to nearby towns.[109] In addition to raw oil shale, the Kohtla-Järve Power Station uses oil shale gas, a by-product of shale oil production, for the same purposes.[127]

Grid connected oil shale-fired power stations in Estonia[6][56][129]
Power station Opened Closed Max. installed
electrical capacity
Tallinn 19241 19652 24 Tallinn City Council (1913–1941)
Reichskommissariat Ostland (1942–1944)
Eesti Energia (1945–1979)
Püssi 1937 1973 3.8 Virumaa Elektri AS (VEAS, 1937−1941)
Reichskommissariat Ostland (1942–1944)
Eesti Energia (1945–1973)
Kohtla-Järve3 1949 ...4 48 Eesti Energia (1949–1996)
Kohtla-Järve Soojus (1996–2011)
VKG Energia (2011–...)
Ahtme 1951 2012 72.5 Eesti Energia (1949–1996)
Kohtla-Järve Soojus (1996–2011)
VKG Energia (2011–2012)
Sillamäe5 19531 ...4 18 Sillamäe Processing Plant (1948–1990)
Silmet (1990–1997)
Sillamäe SEJ (1997–...)
Kiviõli 1959 ...4 10 Kiviõli Keemiatööstus (1944–1995)
Kiviter (1995–1999)
Kiviõli Keemiatööstus (1999–...)
Balti (Narva) 1959 ...4 1,430 Eesti Energia
Eesti (Narva) 1969 ...4 1,610 Eesti Energia
Auvere 20156 ... 300 Eesti Energia

Shale oil extraction[edit]

See also: Narva Oil Plant

In 2008, Estonia was the second largest shale oil producer in the world after China.[130] Production was 651,000 tonnes of shale oil in 2012.[29] Up to 78% of produced shale oil was exported, mainly to European countries, as bunker fuel and refinery feedstocks; the remainder is used mainly for district heating.[29][124][131]

There are three shale-oil producers in Estonia. In 2012, VKG Oil (a subsidiary of Viru Keemia Grupp) produced 370,000 tonnes of shale oil, Eesti Energia Õlitööstus (a subsidiary of Eesti Energia) produced 211,000 tonnes, and Kiviõli Keemiatööstus (a subsidiary of Alexela Energia) produced 70,000 tonnes.[29] Two processes – the Kiviter process and the Galoter process – are in use for shale oil extraction.[4][80][132] Eesti Energia Õlitööstus uses the Galoter process while VKG Oil and Kiviõli Keemiatööstus use both – Kiviter and Galoter processes.[132]

Shale oil extraction plants in Estonia[4]
Plant Opened Closed Technology Owner(s)
Kohtla-Järve 1921 ...1 Pintsch's generator/Kiviter retor (1921–...)1
Tunnel oven (1955–1968)
Chamber retort (1947–1987)
Galoter retort (2009–...)1
Riigi Põlevkivitööstus (1918–1927)
Esimene Eesti Põlevkivitööstus (1936–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Kohtla-Järve Oil Shale Processing Plant (1944–1993)
Kiviter (1993–1999)
VKG Oil (1999–...)
Vanamõisa 1925 1931 Fusion retort Estonian Oil Development Syndicate Ltd. (1925–1930)
Vanamõisa Oilfields Ltd. (1930–1931)
Sillamäe 1928 1944 Tunnel oven Eestimaa Õlikonsortsium (1925–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Kiviõli 1929 ...1 Tunnel oven (1929–1975)
Kiviter retort (1953–...)1
Galoter retort (1953–1981, 2006–...)1
Eesti Kiviõli (1929–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Kiviõli Keemiatööstus (1944–1995)
Kiviter (1995–1999)
Kiviõli Keemiatööstus (1999–...)
Kohtla 1931 1961 Davidson's retort New Consolidated Gold Fields Ltd. (1931–1941)
Baltische Öl (1941–1944)
Kohtla Oil Shale Combinate (1944–1961)
Narva 1980 ...1 Galoter retort1 Eesti Energia/Eesti Energia Õlitööstus
1 Not closed, still operating

Cement production[edit]

Spent shale, a solid residue of oil shale, is used for portland cement production at the Kunda Nordic Tsement factory. In 2002, 10,013 tonnes of spent shale were used for cement production.[90] VKG Plokk, a subsidiary of Viru Keemia Grupp, produces building blocks by using oil shale ash and spent shale, and plans to construct a cement factory.[133][134] The mined waste rock is used for road construction.[4][98]

Environmental impact[edit]

A colour photograph of the un-rehabilitated Aidu open-pit mine. The lower two-thirds of the photo shows hilly land that is mostly brownish-grey. Some small, green trees are growing within this section.
Unrehabilitated land at the Aidu open-pit mine (2007)
A colour photograph of an old semi-coke heap in Kiviõli, dated to 2005, with a large tree in the foreground. The heap is green.
An old semi-coke heap in Kiviõli (2005)

Wastes and land usage[edit]

The mining and processing of about one billion tonnes of oil shale in Estonia has created about 360-370 million tonnes of solid waste. Combustion ashes are the largest component (200 million tonnes), followed by mining waste (90 million tonnes) and spent shale (mainly semi-coke, 70–80 million tonnes).[90][135] According to the European Union waste list, oil shale ash and spent shale are classified as hazardous waste.[136] In addition, approximately 73 million tonnes of graptolitic argillite as overlying deposit were mined and piled in waste heaps in the process of phosphorite–ore mining near Maardu in 1964–1991.[8]

In 2012, the oil shale industry produced 70% of Estonia's ordinary waste and 82% of its hazardous waste. Nine million tonnes of mining waste, eight million tonnes of oil shale ash, and one million tonnes of semi-coke were generated. Due to the oil shale industry, Estonia ranks first among the European Union countries by generated waste per capita.[29] About four million tonnes of oil shale are lost per year during mining; combined with losses incurred during the enrichment process, more than 30% of the resource is lost.[29][137] Although the oil shale development plan sets the more efficient use of oil shale as a goal, mining losses have not decreased in 2007–2011.[29]

The oil shale waste heaps pose a spontaneous ignition risk due to their remaining organic content.[137] The waste material, particularly semi-coke, contains pollutants including sulphates, heavy metals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are toxic and carcinogenic.[138][139]

As a result of decades of mining activity, the topography of the oil shale region has changed; this includes a greater range of altitudes within the mined area.[140] Former and current oil shale mines occupy about 1% of Estonia's territory.[19] About 500 square kilometres (190 sq mi) or 15% of Ida-Viru County's territory is out of use due to open-pit mines and waste landfills; an additional 150 square kilometres (58 sq mi) has sunk or become unstable due to underground mining.[141] As of 2006, semi-coke heaps near Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli covered 180–200 hectares (440–490 acres) and ash heaps near Narva covered 210 hectares (520 acres).[135] These heaps protruding from the flat landscape are regarded as landmarks and as monuments to the area's industrial heritage.[142]

There is less biodiversity within the mined area; in particular, the reclaimed and reforested areas have less biodiversity than the areas which have undergone a natural succession.[140]

Water usage and pollution[edit]

Surface water flows into mines and accumulates along with groundwater. This water must be pumped out in order for mining to proceed. The water that is pumped from the mines and the coolant water used by oil shale-fired power stations combined exceeds 90% of all water used in Estonia.[29] For each cubic meter of oil shale mined in Estonia, 14–18 cubic metres (490–640 cu ft) of water must be pumped from the mines, amounting to about 227 million cubic metres (184,000 acre·ft) that are pumped from mines annually. Groundwater comprises 64% of the water pumped from underground mines annually and 24% of that pumped from open-pit mines.[29] This alters both the circulation and quality of the groundwater, lowers groundwater levels, and releases mine water into surface water bodies such as rivers and lakes. Mining activities have contributed to lower water levels in 24 out of the 39 lakes in the Kurtna Lake District.[137] The release of mine water into the environment has changed the natural movement of surface water.[29] As a result of mining activities, groundwater moves towards the excavation cavities. A 220-kilometre (85-square-mile) underground water body that holds over 170 million cubic metres (140,000 acre·ft) of water has formed in eight abandoned underground mines: Ahtme, Kohtla, Kukruse, Käva, Sompa, Tammiku, No.2 and No.4.[68][143][144]

The process of pumping water from the mines introduces oxygen via aeration, thereby oxidising the rock's pyrite. Pyrite contains sulfur, and one consequence of its oxidation is the introduction of significant amounts of sulphates into mine water.[137][143] This has had a negative impact on water quality in five lakes in the Kurtna Lake District.[29] In some lakes, sulphate levels have increased tens of times compared to the pre-mining period. Suspended mineral matter in the mine water pumped into these lakes has changed the composition of the lakes' sediments. However, it has been found that this disturbance diminishes over time; studies show that sulphates and iron in mining water decrease to levels that meet drinking water quality standards about five years after mine closure.[143]

The process and waste waters used in shale oil extraction contain phenols, tar, and several other environmentally toxic products.[135][138] Power stations use water as a coolant and for hydraulic transportation of oil shale ash to the ash heaps. Narva power stations use 1,306 million cubic metres (1,059,000 acre·ft) of water from the Narva River annually for cooling.[29] For ash transportation, generated oil shale ash is mixed with water at a ratio of 1:20 and the resulted mixture, known as "ash pulp", is pumped to the heaps.[145] Consequently, the transportation water becomes highly alkaline. The total volume of formed alkaline water is 19 million cubic metres (15,000 acre·ft).[146]

Another source of water pollution is aqueous leachates from oil shale ash and spent shale. About 800,000 to 1,200,000 cubic metres (650 to 970 acre·ft) of toxic leachate from the Narva ash heaps inflows annually to the Narva River and further to the Gulf of Finland.[139] Before the closure of old semi-coke heaps in Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli, an additional 500,000 cubic metres (410 acre·ft) of leachates reached via the Kohtla and Purtse rivers to the Baltic Sea annually.[135] The toxicity of leachate is mainly caused by the alkalinity and sulphides; leachate also includes chlorides, oil products, heavy metals, and PAHs which are carcenogenic.[135][139]

Air emissions[edit]

Oil shale-fired power stations pollute air with the fly ash and flue gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO
), and hydrogen chloride (HCl). In addition to Estonia, this pollution also affects Finland and Russia.[147] The industry emits into the atmosphere annually about 200,000 tonnes of fly-ash, including heavy metals, carbonates, alkaline oxides (mainly calcium oxide (CaO)), and harmful organic substances (including PAHs). About 30% of the fly-ash is CaO, a portion of which is neutralised by atmospheric CO2.[137] Alkaline fly ash has raised the pH value of lake and bog water. This has caused the invasion of eutrophic plants in the area of the oil shale industry, leading to the degradation of those waterbodies.[148] Another source of air pollution is the dust that arises during deposition of oil shale ash and semi-coke.[135]

According to a 2001 study, the concentration of particulate matter in the fly-ash is 39.7 mg per cubic metre.[149] The most hazardous particles are those with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (9.8×10−5 in); these particles are associated with an increase in cardiovascular mortality and in the number of premature deaths in Estonia.[150]

The combustion of oil shale releases more CO2 into the atmosphere than any other primary fuel. Generating 1 MWh of electricity in modern oil shale-fired boilers creates 0.9–1 tonnes of CO2.[151] Therefore, oil shale industry is the chief source – more than 70% – of greenhouse gas emissions in Estonia.[29][115] Due to the oil shale-based electricity generation, Estonia's has the second highest greenhouse gas emissions relative to GDP among the OECD and the fifth highest emissions per capita among the IEA countries.[152][153] The whole energy sector of Estonia emitted the CO2 equivalent 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2012.[29] In order to reduce the country's CO2 emissions and to meet the emissions reduction targets, use of oil shale in electricity generation needs to be scaled down. CO2 emissions in Estonia could be reduced by two-thirds if oil shale would be used for production of lighter oil products instead of burning it for electricity generation.[154] It could be achieved by raising taxes on oil shale use and harmonizing tax rates of fossil fuels according to the CO2 emission content.[152]


Various efforts have reduced the industry's environmental impact. Fluidised bed combustion generates fewer NOx, SO
, and fly-ash emissions, including PAHs, than the earlier technologies that burned pulverised oil shale.[146][151] Reclamation and reforestation of exhausted mining areas has been carried out since the 1970s.[155] In 2010–2013, a €38 million project was implemented for the environmentally safe closing of 86 hectares (210 acres) of semi-coke and ash heaps.[141] In accordance with a European Union waste framework directive, the heaps were covered with waterproof material, new topsoil, and sod.[156] In Kiviõli, a 90-metre (300 ft) semi-coke heap, the highest artificial hill in the Baltic countries, was converted into a ski centre.[157] The former Aidu open-pit mine was converted into a rowing course.[158] A part of the former Sirgala open pit mine has been used as a military training area.[140]

There is no recent research about monetary valuation of health damage and environmental impacts caused by the oil shale industry.[159] An oil shale sector health impact survey will be carried out in 2015.[160]


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External links[edit]