Published on May 13, 2021

Estonian shale oil plant construction halted after climate activists open court case

By Madis Vasser

May 7 was indeed a Friday for Future in Estonia, as a district court suspended the construction permit for a shale oil plant issued previously to state-owned energy company Eesti Energia by the local government in the north-eastern region Ida-Viru.

The suspension is the result of a court case brought last year by Fridays for Future Estonia, it cannot be appealed, and it is valid until a final ruling in the case is made.

The controversial fossil fuel project, which could potentially add 2.6 m tons of yearly CO2 emissions from production and burning of oil, was greenlit by the Estonian government last March, in the midst of the national lockdown.

Initially opposed on climate grounds, the activists additionally argued that the environmental impact assessment had not been done properly – in the end, the court ruled they were right, finding that the strategic environmental assessment of the project did not explicitly exclude the negative impact of the construction on the nearby Natura 2000 area. The Estonian climate activists are represented in court by the Environmental Law Center.

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 cannot proceed with the physical construction of the plant despite having completed preparatory works. 

The national energy company Eesti Energia is proposing to build a total of up to four new shale oil plants in the coming years – a plan that made hardly any financial sense even prior to the suspension of the permit. Last July already saw the shelving of grand plans for a complementary shale oil pre-refinery. 

Bankwatch campaigners in Estonia see this project as an iconic fight that will decide if the Ida-Viru region – which is one of the regions in Europe officially on its way to a just transition away from fossil fuels – finally gets a kickstart on the transformation process by giving up plans for this polluting plant. 

Photos from the climate strike in Tallinn, Estonia, in September 2019. Author: Katre Liiv.