Natural resources and the oil shale mining

Oil shale mining and related power plants and chemical factories have altered vast areas in Northeast Estonia, including eastern parts of the North-Estonian Coastal Plain and the Viru Plateau and the northern part of Alutaguse. Industrial outlets influence neighbouring areas and water bodies: Lake Peipsi, the Narva River and the Gulf of Finland. Solid waste hills are distinct landscape features in Northeast Estonia.

The most important among the natural resources of the area is oil shale. The dark side of oil shale mining is its damage to nature. The mining and benefication of oil shale and its use in the energy and chemical industry have damaged the Earth´s structure, landscape, surface and ground water, atmosphere, plant cover and animal life, and human health and living conditions. The area, damaged or strongly influenced by mining, exceeds 300 square km, and is continuously growing.

The development of the oil shale industry has lead to active use of other mineral resources. From some bogs, peat has been used for manufacturing peat briquettes, litter and fertiliser. The largest peat-milling field in Estonia is located at Oru. It was created in order to extract the peat before mining oil shale in the Viivikonna and Sirgala open pits. Large quantities of gravel and sand have been used for construction of roads and buildings. To a lesser extent, limestone and clay have been used, and, until the late 1980s, so was Dictyonema Shale. Long-time production of uranium and rare earth metals in Sillamäe from imported raw material has left environmentally hazardous waste.

A large industrial area in Northeast Estonia includes oil shale mines and open pits, chemical factories, power plants and solid waste heaps. Near Kunda, the industrial area includes a cement factory and limestone and clay pits. For decades, the cement factory has been polluting the town and its surroundings with lime dust. The recent installation of new dust filters has led to a decrease in pollution. Mining of gravel and sand has reshaped the landscape as well.

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