The Brazilian joint venture (JV) between majors BHP and Vale, Samarco, has been given all the necessary environmental licences to restart its operations in the state of Minas Gerais.
The Samarco operations were suspended in November 2015 after the collapse of a tailings dam, which claimed the lives of 19 people and displacing numerous others.
Samarco has now received the Corrective Operating License (LOC) from the Mining Activities Chamber of the State Council for Environmental Policy, with the JV targeting a restart of operations by the end of 2020.
Samarco said that the restarted operations would be using new technologies for dry tailings stacking, and for this reason, the operational restart of iron-ore extraction and beneficiation plants in Germano, and the pelletizing plant in the Ubu complex, located in Anchieta, in Espírito Santo state, will only occur after the implementation of a filtration system.
The construction of the filtration plant is expected to take approximately 12 months from LOC approval. During this period, Samarco will continue its operational readiness activities, which include equipment maintenance.
Following the implementation of the filtration process, Samarco will seek shareholder approval to restart operations.
“With the approval of the LOC application, Samarco is authorised to restart operations, but first we want to adopt new filtration technologies that will increase safety, a key principle that guides our work for Samarco’s recovery and operations,” Samarco CEO Rodrigo Vilela said.
He noted that with the filtration process, Samarco expects to be able to substantially dewater sand tailings and stack these filtered sand tailings in piles safely.
The remaining 20% of tailings will be deposited in the Alegria South pit, which is a bedrock self-contained structure, said Vilela.
Alegria South pit preparation works began in October last year and were concluded in the middle of this month.
However, Vilela has warned that the operations could be impacted by changes to the environmental and regulatory framework for mining in Brazil, which were put in place in 2019.
He said that these changes would “materially impact” the ramp-up of operations, including the completion of additional licensing processes and the development of additional tailings disposal sites.
“We expect to be able to restart operations through one concentrator and produce a range of approximately seven-million to eight-million tonnes per annum, following the installation of the filtration technology.