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Making mining viable

Estonia has a lot of natural resources which are important at the national level. We have mineral resources such as oil shale and carbonate rock, and non-mineral resources such as peat. The role of the Environmental Board is to monitor that the impact on the environment caused by exploration and mining of natural resources does not exceed the limits of natural tolerance and does not affect the quality or availability of ground water.

The Environmental Board regulates the use of natural mineral resources of importance to Estonia through issuing activity permits, whether they be for geological exploration or mining.

Such permits are issued if the operations being planned are justified and will be carried out with the minimum possible impact on the environment. This limits resource loss and ensures that the mineral reserves in the upper layers mined in order to extract mineral reserves from deeper layers are not rendered useless. Mining permits are not issued if such operations would be likely to have a significant impact on nature, heritage or state conservation sites. Furthermore, open cast mines cannot be established on the shorelines of bodies of water.

Once a permit has been issued for geological exploration or mining, the Environmental Board monitors activities both on site and in terms of reporting. Should suspicions arise, we make control measurements to determine whether the volume of mining claimed by the company corresponds to the actual situation and to the provisions of the permit and whether the deposit is being mined in accordance with requirements. If serious problems are encountered in the course of mining operations or if the company fails to meet the set requirements, the Environmental Board has the right to review and amend its licence.

Companies are obliged to recultivate the open cast mines they are operating within the duration of their permit. Landscapes disturbed through mining must be recultivated in a way that makes them blend in with the surrounding area and fit for use once more. This way, for example, an old open cast mine can be afforested or transformed into a field or lake – or redeveloped entirely as a residential or recreational area.

Environmental fees help save resources

When mining natural resources which belong to the state, companies are obliged to pay an environmental fee which among other things helps local governments to alleviate any negative effects of the mining. Although these fees represent a notable source of income, they are not designed simply to make money. The objective of environmental fees is to encourage economy among mining companies so that there are sufficient natural resources for the future.

The Environmental Board analyses the use of Estonia’s natural resources to make sure that it is purposeful and justified within the terms of the environmental fees. The board checks to ensure that resources are being used for their intended purpose so as to prevent high-quality materials from being wasted as a fill and in other ways. Should pressure for such activities increase, the Environmental Board may propose that the environmental fees be raised so as to secure the economical use of resources.

Mining – a double-edged sword

Local governments and environmentalists are often against any type of mining. But they do not ask themselves how important the mining and processing of natural resources are. What are the buildings that we live in made of? What goes into the roads we drive on, which we only want more of, and of better quality? And then of course there is the energy we obtain from oil shale for electricity and heating.

Since mining operations often affect the lives of local communities, proposals for the opening of new mines almost always meet with the resistance of local governments and residents. The role of the Environmental Board in such situations is to bring all of the interested parties together and to guide them towards compromise and agreement. We work to ensure that the country and its population benefit from its natural resources without affecting the quality of the living environments of the local people.

Poto: Jelena Ello

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