7Taking care of the environment

In shaping its environmental policy, VKG places great value on social responsibility and understands that environmental impact management is a prerequisite to sustainable development. We have created an integral and systemic approach to environmental issues, which is in accordance with European Union and Estonian legal acts as well as the environmental requirements arising from the Best Available Technology (BAT) framework documents.

All VKG’s production units are in conformity with environmental requirements, but we are still constantly looking for ways to optimise processes and reduce the production footprint. Our aim is to make full use of the potential of oil shale in accordance with the principles of a circular economy with the smallest possible footprint.

In 2021, the European Green Deal was in the focus of environmental activities and Estonia also presented its framework position on the matter. The Group had the opportunity to provide its shale oil sector input into the development of the position, which was partly taken into account in the final document. We also participated in various EU initiatives, including the preparation of the European Climate Law, the carbon border adjustment mechanism, the planned changes in the greenhouse gas trading system, etc.

Environmental areas of activity in 2021:

Reduction of the emission of odoriferous substances

As the largest Estonian shale oil producer, our activities have an effect on the surrounding environment and the local community. In planning our activities, we rely on the odoriferous substance reduction action plan. In 2021, we launched the project of reconstruction of the Petroter I shale oil plant. The project includes the installation of a new flue gas utilisation boiler and an electrical filter, which will significantly reduce the impact of VKG’s production activities on ambient air quality in the City of Kohtla-Järve and its vicinity.

Greenhouse gases

The 4th period rules of the EU carbon credits trading system entered into force in 2021. On account of an increase in the 2019 and 2020 production volumes and a change of methodology, we proved an additional 316,000 free of charge carbon credits.

Mineral extraction permits

VKG Kaevandused filed an application for the amendment of the environmental permit of the Uus-Kiviõli Mine. The company wishes to increase the allowed maximum annual limit in the permit from 2 million tonnes of oil shale to 5 million tonnes a year and to change the mineral transport solution. The Environmental Board initiated an environmental impact assessment in April. VKG Kaevandused OÜ and Enefit Power AS started to jointly prepare an EIA programme at the end of 2021.

VKG Kaevandused submitted an application to the Environmental Board for the extension of the mining claim of the Ojamaa oil shale mine to the Aidu and Kohtla mining fields and the Ojamaa exploration field, which would increase the area of the mining claim by 279.16 ha. As a result of the requested extension, the active proved reserves of oil shale related to the mining claim would be increased by 10,091,000 tonnes. In April 2021, the Environmental Board initiated an environmental impact assessment with regard to the requested activities. VKG Kaevandused started preparing an EIA programme at the end of 2021.

A study of the best available technology for shale oil

Under the leadership of the Ministry of the Environment, the preparation of a study of the best available technology for the Estonian shale oil production commenced in 2021. VKG has been participating in the workgroup preparing the study and has submitted an input with regard to the effectiveness of the technologies used in the Group. The process continues in 2022.

Oil shale industry waste depository

In autumn 2021, VKG started an attempt to landscape the oil shale industry waste depository, in the course of which it is testing the option of using stabilised wastewater sediments from a neighbouring enterprise to plant greenery on the slope of the depository.

In 2021, we invested 10.2 million euros in environmental projects and increasing reliability and efficiency, of which direct investments in reducing environmental impact made up 5.3 million euros.

Important activities in 2021 included having a say in shaping Estonia’s positions on Fit for 55, the extension of the Ojamaa Mine, the assessment of environmental impact in the Uus-Kiviõli mining field, and participating in the workgroup for the study of the best available technology for the production of shale oil. Priorities include the process of conducting a strategic environmental assessment of the special spatial plan for oil shale industry waste and the special spatial plan for the bioproducts production complex. We also have to critically assess the effect of the opening of the Industrial Emissions Directive on our environmental activities.

In the coming years, VKG’s development and environmental activities will continue to be focused on efficiency, waste reuse, reduction of air emissions, and projects related to the climate neutrality policy.