Editorial: brown gold, wrapped in paper

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Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

In Estonia, involvement tends to be in words only. With decisions, experts, scientists, entrepreneurs and real-lifers tend to be ignored. While with some softer domains the mistakes may merely cause the temporary media noise and public nagging, in some matters the errors may be fatal and the price to be paid severe. The latter surely involves issues of oil shale mining. 

The oil shale use development plan uncovered by Postimees today will definitely trigger questions, demand explanations and birth discussions. While there’s the occasional talk of oil shale as some relic irrelevant on this globalizing globe, it’s obvious judging by the ever complicating picture that energy of our own is vital.

Let’s not forget that in Estonia, industrial oil shale mining is a century-long thing as propelled, among other things, by the fuel crisis caused by WW1. Not in vain, they call it our brown gold. In the domain, we possess unique knowhow and skills. For Estonia, the Virumaa-related industry is not limited to economic, but also to manifold security interests.

As for development plans, these are long-term documents of national planning difficult to overestimate. Regrettably, in the red-tape-Estonia of today where the state often equals little kingdoms within agencies and ministries, the complication of these is often faulty. At times, they are penned as a boring formality – resulting in round writings subject to all kinds of interpretation, not applicable in real life and destined to collect dust on some shelf. At other times, clauses are squeezed in, enabling policy dictated decisions. The new oil shale plan is both.

Regarding yearly mining, the 20 million tonne ceiling is tinkered with – by experts named the emotional limit. Considering the development of technology, a larger than that volume would soon allow meeting environmental requirements. Meanwhile, should the price prognosis included prove erroneous or outright wrong, future investments into the domain are questionable indeed.

From there, it may be like dominoes falling. Without development and innovation, no work for experts. As hands-on work struggles, the domain will stagnate. When a crisis hits and energy prices skyrocket, and we try to lean on the formerly powerful pillar, we’ll find it to be broken. And in the crisis situation we will be unable to mend the entire chain.

In these troublesome times in Europe and the entire world, the alarm bells ought to be loud enough for us to realise how important to maintain our strengths.  

Cartoon: oil shale development plan? Oh how nice, handy to wrap some shale in for the rainy day.