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Oil shale production in Ida-Viru province, Estonia

Large-scale oil shale is being mined in Estonia’s industrial north-east. Public figures signed a petition to the government for stopping its extraction and realign with the goals of the Paris Agreement.


On 20 June 2020, Euronews reported that environmental organisations were taking the Estonian authorities to court over plans to build a new oil shale plant [1]. Fridays for Future Estonia argued the new plant, to be operated by subsidiaries of the state-owned Eesti Energia company, is not compatible with Estonia's obligations under the Paris Agreement. They are being supported by Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe who also accuse the government of using the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures banning gatherings - and therefore protests - to push through the proposal. Their legal case was accepted by the Tartu administrative court last month, which subsequently rejected their application for an interim injunction to halt construction work. FoE said that the government, which will pour €125 million of public funds into the project, is "gambling on the failure of international climate agreements, a continued dependence on fossil fuels and the subsidising of the declining oil industry."

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil shale production in Ida-Viru province, Estonia
State or province:Ida-Virumaa
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Oil shale
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Over 90 per cent of Estonia’s CO2 emissions come from burning oil shale for electricity, and oil shale contributes significantly to other pollution and waste levels in the country. The high concentrations of pollutants create health problems for local people: children living in the oil shale area have more respiratory diseases and are projected to live four years less on average. The country’s energy development plan 2030 commits to reducing the number of early deaths resulting from pollution by 50 per cent by 2030. [2] The new primer minister, K. Kallas, said in January 2021: “We have to attract investment [in the shale region] to employ the people working there, in order to prevent social-economic crisis”. Estonia is one of the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters in EU because of oil shale use for power generation, which Kallas said would be wound up by 2035. Estonian electricity is produced by first digging up huge swaths of some of the most picturesque landscapes in the county, collecting millions of metric tons of dirt-like oil shale and then just burning it all. [4].

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Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:15,000
Start of the conflict:2016
Company names or state enterprises:Eesti Põlevkivi from Estonia
Eesti Energia from Estonia
Relevant government actors:Goverment of Estonia
European Commission
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Fridays for Future.
Frieds of the Earth (Estonia).
Estonian Fund for Nature.
Estonian Green Movement.
Estonian Environmental Law Center.
Climate Action Network CAN-E.
CEE Bankwatch Network .
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Land dispossession
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:There is a court case going on and also petitions to the EU Commission asking for plans of expansion of the shale oil industry to be curtailed.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] A New Tale, Just Without Oil Shale: Climate Neutrality and the Future of Estonia’s Industrial North-East, by Andrei V. Belyi
[click to view]

[1] Campaigners take Estonian government to court over plans to build new shale oil plant. By Euronews • Updated: 20/06/2020
[click to view]

[2]. Bankwatch. Estonia’s dirty secret. Estonia is the second largest emitter of CO2 per capita in the European Union and by far the most carbon-intensive economy among the OECD countries. The reason for that is oil shale, sedimentary rock that has been mined in Estonia for electricity generation since the fifties and, since recently, have also been used for liquid diesel fuel production. Teet Randma, National campaigner in Estonia | 25 July 2018.
[click to view]

[4] Estonian world. A new research project maps the impacts of moving away from oil shale in Estonia. By Silver Tambur / July 2, 2020
[click to view]

[5]Organizations: Estonian government shale oil goals contradict EU agreements. BNS. 12.05.2020
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update28/03/2021
Conflict ID:5478
Related conflicts
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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