The National Development Plan for the use of oil shale identifies the needs for oil shale mining and exploration for the next 15 years. Praxis, AS Maves and TalTech study aimed to determine priority areas for oil shale mining until 2030, taking into account natural, economic and social conditions. The initial selection of priority areas was based on the Mining Sensitivity Report completed in 2014-2015. The study consisted of three consecutive sections.

The first phase – the natural impacts analysis – assessed ten current biggest sites with a registered mining permit application, plus three options in Iisaku and one in Uus-Kiviõli, based on natural constraints. Six potential mining areas were identified as a result: Uus-Kiviõli, Sonda, Sonda 2 and Oandu study areas in Lüganuse municipality and Estonia 2 and area with no significant nature conservation north of Iisaku in Alutaguse rural municipality. Of these, the Uus-Kiviõli mining area is the most preferred for reducing the mining conditions, the scarcity of protected natural objects and the loss of mineral resources. There are no significant nature conservation sites in this mining area, and the main concern is on the habitat of capercaillie in the southeast. In terms of its predictable impact on nature, Uus-Kiviõli is followed by the Iisaku mining area. For the other areas considered, greater consideration should be given to disturbance of habitats for animals and birds in the extraction area (including protected areas). Throughout the study, activities aimed at improving the condition of wild and flying squirrel populations were essential to mining.

The aim of the second phase of the study was to develop a financial model of economic viability in pre-selected priority areas, which would allow for the prioritization of regions for two types of mining technologies. The model is based on the estimated cost of the components and on their significance and influence. Cost components include, among other things, the depth of mines and the quantity and quality of oil shale reserves. Both extraction methods rank priority areas based on extraction and capital expenditure indices. As a result of the economic analysis, both mining technologies found to the most favourable area to be Uus-Kiviõli mining area, followed by Sonda mining areas.

In the socio-economic analysis, the impacts of new potential mines were investigated on the local population, the economy and the workforce. For this purpose, the relationships identified in previous studies were mapped to the current region-specific variables, in addition to which a number of focus group interviews were conducted with local residents and municipal officials. Impacts were studied on new mines as well as existing and closed mines. Both the interviews and previous surveys revealed that both residents and municipal officials are concerned about the changes in the water regime, which has already been experienced with open mines. Residents also feel that their well-being will decline even if disturbances remain within legal limits. Developers and the state are expected to enter into binding cooperation agreements with the local community to accurately fix pre-mining social conditions. Opposition expressed in focus group to the opening of new mines has so far not been reflected in extraordinary changes in house prices or emigration.