Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Oil Shale Country Notes
Oil shale was first scientifically researched in the 18th century. In 1838 work was undertaken to establish an open-cast pit near the town of Rakvere and an attempt was made to obtain oil by distillation. Although it was concluded that the rock could be used as solid fuel and, after processing, as liquid or gaseous fuel, the 'kukersite' (derived from the name of the locality) was not exploited until the fuel shortages created by World War I began to impact.
The Baltic Oil Shale Basin is situated near the north-western boundary of the East European Platform. The Estonia and Tapa deposits are both situated in the west of the Basin, the former being the largest and highest-quality deposit within the Basin.
Since 1916 oil shale has had an enormous influence on the energy economy, particularly during the period of Soviet rule and then under the re-established Estonian Republic. At a very early stage, an oil shale development programme declared that kukersite could be used directly as a fuel in the domestic, industrial or transport sectors. Moreover, it was easily mined and could be even more effective as a combustible fuel in power plants or for oil distillation. Additionally kukersite ash could be used in the cement and brick-making industries.
Permanent mining began in 1918 and has continued until the present day, with capacity (both underground mining and open-cast) increasing as demand rose. By 1955 oil shale output had reached 7 million tonnes and was mainly used as power station/chemical plant fuel and in the production of cement. The opening of the 1 400 MW Balti Power Station in 1965 followed, in 1973, by the 1 600 MW Eesti Power Station again boosted production and by 1980 (the year of maximum output) the figure had risen to 31.35 million tonnes.
In 1981, the opening of a nuclear power station in the Leningrad district of Russia signalled the beginning of the decline in Estonian oil shale production. No longer were vast quantities required for power generation and the export of electricity. The decline lasted until 1995, since when production levels have varied but generally are less than half of those of the early 1980s.
The total Estonian in-place shale oil resource is currently estimated to be in the region of 16 billion barrels and at the present time continues to play a dominant role in the country's energy balance. However, many factors: economic, political and environmental are all having an effect.
In the years following independence, the oil shale industry was privatised and is now open to the forces of free market competition; production of oil shale has been shown to be economically viable up to a crude oil price of US$ 30 but with prices in excess of this level, new mining projects have become feasible; the country's accession to the European Union has brought compliance with many directives, especially the emissions trading directive. Estonia has ratified the various climate change and pollution control protocols of recent years but must increasingly address the air and water pollution problems that nearly a century of oil shale mining has brought. Many investment programmes have been launched in an attempt to reduce the environmental effects of oil shale.
In 2005 14.6 million tonnes of oil shale were produced, among them the billionth tonne. Imports amounted to 0.2 million tonnes, 10.9 million tonnes were used for electricity generation, 0.7 for heat generation and 2.8 million tonnes were processed for shale oil and coke production. Production of shale oil was 345 000 tonnes, 222 000 tonnes were exported, 8 000 tonnes were utilised for electricity generation and 98 000 for heat generation.
The historical ratio of underground mining to open-cast (approximately 50:50) is tending to move away from open-cast production as the bed depths increase - the exhausted open-cast areas are gradually being recultivated and reforested. The Government has decreed that the share of renewables in electricity production will increase to 5.1% by 2012. Additionally, both the Long-term Development Plan for the Estonian Fuel and Energy Sector and the Estonia Forestry Development Programme 2001-2010 both state that the share of biofuels will increase. However, although the country possesses low-pollution peat and biofuels resources, they are limited and therefore oil shale is likely to remain central to the energy balance in the next decade.