Remarks by the Auditor General Mr. Alar Karis about the audit report “Activities of state in organising treatment of oil shale mining and processing waste”

Alar Karis | 5/27/2015 | 12:00 AM

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“Estonia’s best known mineral resource - oil shale - is both our fortune and misfortune. It’s our fortune, because it’s the basis of our state’s energy sector - it can be used to produce electricity or oil, and thousands of families in Ida-Viru County and elsewhere depend upon the oil share industry for their livelihood. It is a misfortune, because oil shale extraction and processing generates ca 17 million tons of waste per year, which comprises 80% of all waste generated in Estonia. More than half of the waste generated by the use of oil shale is hazardous waste.
Since the beginning of the oil shale industry over a hundred years ago, more than 400 million tons of waste has been deposited in landfills and waste facilities, and waste management facilities cover more than 27 km² of the territory of Ida-Viru County. According to an estimate from 2014, the pollution resulting from oil shale waste has damaged groundwater bodies in Ida-Viru County, three of which are now in a bad condition.
The large quantity of oil shale waste is the main reason why Estonia ranks first in the European Union in terms of the quantity of hazardous waste generated per person per year, which exceeds the EU average by more than 40 times.
Estonia has spent over 50 million euros of its own and EU taxpayers’ money on the liquidation of the pollution caused by oil shale waste However, several sites that pose a pollution risk have still not been streamlined, and making them safe will take millions and millions more euros.
The audit carried out by the National Audit Office indicates that the waste generated by oil shale extraction and use has so far been regarded as something inevitable. The emergence of waste is obviously inevitable, but significantly more effort should be made to influence the companies that deal with oil shale and earn revenue from it to reduce the generation and depositing of waste.
The state therefore needs specific plans of how to support the development and implementation of solutions and technologies for recovering the waste generated in the course of energy and oil production in the oil shale sector.
So far, the state has been of the opinion that a more extensive recovery of oil shale waste is something that oil shale companies should worry about. However, the state also has an important role to play in this. Recovery of oil shale waste requires demand in addition to supply. The public sector can be one of the main creators of demand, as it could offer opportunities for using oil shale waste in the construction of public buildings and structures, such as roads. There is no doubt that it would also boost innovation.
If the state doesn’t see any opportunities for a more extensive use of oil shale waste, then we’re facing the situation where most of oil shale waste will be deposited in mining waste facilities and hazardous waste landfills also in the future. This means that the capacity of waste management facilities and the area of land they cover will keep growing and the threat of environmental pollution will not disappear. If no options for waste recovery are found, it will not be possible to cut back on the use of other natural resources that could be replaced with the waste.”

  • Posted: 5/27/2015 12:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/8/2015 12:36 PM
  • Last Review: 9/8/2015 12:36 PM

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