Campaigners take Estonian government to court over plans to build new shale oil plant
Environmental organisations are taking the Estonian government to court over plans to build a new shale oil plant.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) Europe and Fridays for Future Estonia argue 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 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 subsquently 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."
90 public figures have also signed an open letter to the government calling for the plant's building permit to be revoked and for public funding to be withdrawn.
"The investment is in direct contravention of the European Union's climate protection strategy, even though Prime Minister Jüri Ratas has publicly promised to invest in mitigating climate change," they wrote.
"The construction of the new oil plant violates section five of the constitution, according to which Estonia's natural resources constitute national wealth that needs to be used sparingly. The construction of an oil plant clashes with sustainable development goals and obligations pursuant to the Paris Agreement, inevitably raising the question of why invest in yesterday," they added.
Energy sector responsible for 88% of emissions
Shale oil is produced by heating oil shale rock fragments to convert the organic matter within the rock into synthetic oil and gas. It is one of the dirtiest oils because production typically leads to more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil extraction. It can also require a huge amount of water to produce and generates a lot more waste material which then needs to be disposed of.
The Baltic country had the second-highest GHG emission per capita in the EU in 2017 after Luxembourg, according to Eurostat.
The latest report from the Ministry of the Environment states that emissions of carbon dioxide decreased by nearly 50 per cent between 1990 and 2017.
The report also reveals that the energy sector is by far the country's largest producer of GHG emissions, accounting for 88.76 per cent of all emissions in 2017, adding that "since 2009 the GHG emissions are strongly related to the volume of exported electricity that is mainly produced from oil shale".
The share of renewables in the country's energy mix has meanwhile increased from 16.1 per cent in 2006 to 29.2 per cent in 2017.
The national development plan for the energy sector plans for renewables to produce 50 per cent of all domestic final electricity consumption by 2030.
Dailyrater has contacted the Department for Energy and Eesti Energia for comment.