In November 2015, a tailings dam collapsed at an iron ore mine operated by mining firm Samarco in the southeastern Brazilian city of Mariana, killing 19 people and causing untold environmental damage to the surrounding region. Seven years on, the company has just been awarded authorization to expand its mining operations at the very same complex where the tragedy occurred.
A joint venture of Brazilian mining giant Vale and Australian-British multinational BHP Billiton, Samarco has operated in the state of Minas Gerais since the late 1970s and has now gained authorization to intervene in 35 additional hectares of Atlantic Forest around the cities of Mariana and Ouro Preto. Approximately one-third of this land is located within environmental protection areas.
The company resumed its operations after five years in 2020 and is reportedly working at “26 percent of its production capacity,” according to a Samarco statement. The plan is to return to 100 percent by 2029.
Vale, one of Samarco’s parent companies, is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which accuses the firm of “making false and misleading claims about the safety of its dams” in connection with the 2019 Brumadinho disaster — the second such tragedy linked to the major Brazilian miner.