Dirty oil shale plant construction halted after Estonian youth climate activists’ court case
By Madis Vasser, energy campaigner, Estonian Green Movement/Friends of the Earth Estonia. A version of this blog was first published here.
Friday May 7 was indeed a Friday for the Future in Estonia!
In a much-anticipated ruling, a district court suspended a construction permit for a polluting new oil shale plant in north-east of the country. Oil shale is the most polluting form of energy in Europe.
The suspension is the result of a court case brought last year by youth climate strikers Fridays for Future Estonia, and cannot be appealed until the final decision by all levels of the court system.
The plan had been greenlit by the Estonian government, but the construction permit for the plant had previously been granted to state-owned energy company Eesti Energia by the local government in Ida-Viru.
Oil shale is a dirty, low density source of energy from an oily sedimentary rock which can be burned directly for electricity or turned into liquid fuel.
Estonia has long had the second-highest per capita CO2 emissions in the EU, due to relying on oil shale for electricity.
The government had used the coronavirus lockdown as cover to push through their dirty plans to expand oil shale production and processing in Estonia. The plant could potentially add 2.6 m tons of CO2 emissions every year.
Initially opposed on climate grounds, the youth activists additionally argued that the environmental impact assessment had not been done properly. The court ruled they were right, finding that the strategic environmental assessment of the project did not explicitly exclude negative impacts on the nearby Natura 2000 nature protection zone. The Estonian climate activists are represented in court by the Environmental Law Centre.
The litigation over the legitimacy of building the plant will continue and the whole court case is expected to last another year – during which the company must halt physical construction of the plant, despite having already completed preparatory paperwork.
The national energy company Eesti Energia is proposing to build a total of up to four new oil shale plants in the coming years – a plan that made hardly any financial, let alone climate sense even prior to this court ruling. Last July already saw the shelving of grand plans for a complementary oil shale pre-refinery due to economic reasons.
Campaigners in Estonia see this project as an iconic fight that will decide if the Ida-Viru region finally gets a kickstart on the way to a just transition away from fossil fuels. Estonian Green Movement/Friends of the Earth Estonia continues to support the youth activists and court cases with media work and critical analysis of the destructive oil shale industry.