Skip to main content

Estonia’s top court has told the state energy firm Eesti Energia to stop building a shale oil facility because it could harm the environment. The decision is the result of mounting environmental concerns and an increased focus on the impact of shale oil extraction on the environment and climate. 

Young activists had sued the municipality that gave the building permit, saying it violated climate agreements, and the court agreed that the environmental impact of the facility had not been properly assessed. For example, the project did not account for its impact on a nature reserve with rare species. 

Despite having no climate laws, Estonia aims to meet the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050. The court added that a clear plan to reduce the country’s emissions was needed.

Environmental impact

The court’s order represents a setback for Eesti Energia, which had embarked on the construction of the shale oil plant in the northeastern region of Narva-Joesuu. The project had initially received government approval and was aimed at expanding Estonia’s domestic oil production.

The court’s decision underscores concerns related to shale oil extraction and its impact on the environment. As a fossil fuel, shale oil production emits high levels of carbon dioxide, but there are also concerns about water use and contamination, and earth tremors. A number of countries have banned fracking, the process used to extract shale oil and gas.

Apart from the environmental concerns, the construction of the shale oil plant had raised alarm bells among local communities, which expressed worries about potential health and safety hazards. Protests and petitions against the project gained momentum in recent months.

The future of shale oil

Eesti Energia and the Estonian government will now have to reconsider the future of the shale oil plant project in light of the court’s order. They may be required to conduct more comprehensive environmental assessments and address the concerns raised by local communities.

The court’s decision sends a powerful message about the need to prioritise environmental sustainability and take serious measures to combat climate change. Such rulings emphasise the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels to a cleaner and more sustainable energy system.