Increase in generation and depositing of oil shale waste should not be regarded as inevitable

Toomas Mattson | 5/27/2015 | 11:00 AM

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TALLINN, 27 May 2015. - The audit carried out by the National Audit Office indicated that the Ministry of the Environment must motivate companies to reduce the generation of waste associated with oil shale extraction and use more efficiently than before and increase the recovery of generated waste. The audit also points out that it would be reasonable of the Environmental Board to request appropriate guarantees from companies that would ensure the state would not have to spend money in cases where the owner of a landfill or waste disposal site finds themselves in economic difficulties and the state has to close the waste disposal site instead of the owner.

Approximately 17 million tons of oil shale extraction and processing waste is generated per year, which comprises 80% of all waste generated in Estonia. The generation of oil shale waste increased by 56% from 2009-2013 due to the increase in electricity generation and oil production. Since the beginning of the oil shale industry, 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. The waste generated by the oil shale industry keeps having a negative environmental impact on the living and natural environment in Ida-Viru County.

Although oil shale waste is generated in large quantities, the state has not regarded this as a significant problem and not demanded that companies generate less waste and increase waste recovery. The large share of oil shale waste in overall waste generation has been acknowledged in the National Waste Management Plan adopted in 2014, but any discussion of oil shale waste is non-committal, and whilst the existing situation has been recognised, the plan doesn’t offer any solutions for improving it. It is stated in the Waste Management Plan that the development and implementation of waste recovery solutions and technologies in the oil shale sector must be supported, but the plan and its operational programme offer no measures or activities for the achievement of these goals. No target levels have been set for waste reduction and recovery in the National Development Plan for Oil Shale Use either, and the environmental protection permits issued to the companies that generate oil shale waste do not require them to reduce waste generation and depositing, and to increase recovery. In the course of the audit, the Ministry of the Environment explained that the generation of waste is inevitable and cannot be prevented when mineral resources are extracted and processed.

The audit revealed that there are several opportunities for oil shale waste recovery, but no suitable and economically justified solutions for large-scale waste recycling have not been found, because the demand for products made of oil shale waste is insufficient. The Ministry of the Environment is of the opinion that finding waste recovery options is primarily a duty of companies. The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the state should still promote the recovery of oil shale waste, e.g. by creating demand for products made of oil shale waste in the construction of public buildings and structures.

Until options for recovering oil shale waste are found, the majority of waste generated by the industry is still deposited at landfills. This will increase the size of waste management sites and the area of land covered by them and preserve the threat of environmental pollution. It also means that the other resources that could be replaced with waste cannot be saved.

The audit carried out by the National Audit Office also revealed that the data submitted by the companies to the state about waste quantities and environmental monitoring, which are the basis of the state’s strategic waste management decisions, the collection of pollution charges, national statistics and ascertainment of environmental impact, are not adequately checked. Neither the Environmental Board nor the Environmental Inspectorate finds that checking waste reports is its duty. The state has also not proven that the results of the environmental monitoring carried out by companies are correct. The Ministry of the Environment and the Environmental Board claim that companies are responsible for the correctness of the submitted data.

The audit revealed that the state has spent over 50 million euros on elimination of the residual pollution caused by oil shale waste and will have to spend tens of millions more. Among others, the Ministry of the Environment has had to streamline the old semi-coke hills in Kohtla-Järve and Kiviõli. The Purtse river, the phenol bog and the Kukruse mine waste hill still need to be streamlined.

However, the National Audit Office found that the state has not protected itself adequately against similar situations in the future, where waste management sites must be closed for taxpayers’ money. This may happen if the companies whose operations have led to the emergence of waste management sites that need streamlining end up in economic difficulties. Pursuant to Estonian law, companies must streamline their waste management sites themselves and prove their ability to perform this obligation with monetary guarantees. The National Audit Office concluded that the system of monetary guarantees has not become implemented as intended, because the Environmental Board has not demanded the guarantees required for streamlining landfills and waste disposal sites from companies or even calculated the amount of the guarantee that should be demanded. Companies have therefore allocated money for streamlining waste management sites themselves, but the National Audit Office is of the opinion that the amounts allocated by some companies may not be enough for streamlining.

The National Audit Office advised the Minister of the Environment to set specific goals in sectoral development plans for reducing oil shale waste depositing and increasing recovery, to give more attention to proving the correctness of the data submitted by companies and to review the monetary guarantee system of oil shale waste management sites as soon as possible.


There main types of waste are generated by oil shale extraction and use: mine waste upon extraction and enrichment; oil shale bottom ash and fly ash upon electricity generation; semi-coke upon shale oil production; phenol water and solid black ash of heat exchange equipment; plus pitch waste. All of the aforementioned waste, except for mine waste, constitutes hazardous waste according to Estonian law and require special conditions for handling. 8 tons of hazardous waste per person per year is generated in Estonia. This indicator places Estonia firmly in the first place among all European Union Member States, and it exceeds the European average – 200 kg per person per year – 40 times. 18.1 million tons of oil shale waste in total was generated in 2013.

The National Audit Office analysed whether state has been sufficiently demanding in organising the management of the waste generated by oil shale extraction and processing. For this purpose, the National Audit Office assessed whether the state has motivated companies to reduce waste depositing and increase recovery, and exercised efficient supervision over compliance with the requirements of law and the conditions of permits. It also analysed whether and how the state has eliminated the residual pollution caused by oil shale waste, and guaranteed that the companies that use waste management sites streamline these sites themselves as required by law.


Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service, National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900
[email protected]
[email protected]

  • Posted: 5/27/2015 11:00 AM
  • Last Update: 8/15/2015 11:05 PM
  • Last Review: 8/15/2015 11:05 PM

Location of surveillance stations of the state and of companies in Ida-Viru County (2014).

National Audit Office, Environment Agency, KLIS2, basemap of Land Board

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