Ecuador to tighten rules for mining waste dams to avoid repeat of Brazil disaster

The aftermath of the disaster in Brumardinho after Vale’s tailings dam collapsed. Photo by Vinícius Mendonça/Ibama, Wikimedia Commons.

Ecuador’s government plans to tighten rules regulating the construction and operation of mining waste dams to avoid disasters like one in Brazil in January when a dam owned by Vale SA collapsed, killing hundreds.

Vice Minister of Mining Fernando Benalcazar told Reuters the new rules will take effect in December and will prohibit the building of so-called tailings dams close to populated areas and ban certain designs that are considered less stable.

Public trust in the mining industry has plunged since the disaster in Brazil, spurring calls to bolster safety at tailings dams, which are used to store the muddy detritus of the mining process and can be dozens of meters high.

“In October last year, we decided to move forward with new regulations. In January, with the Brazilian incident, the process sped up and we decided that we have to be prepared,” Benalcazar said in an interview.

Ecuador has had a basic regulatory structure in place since 2015 to approve licenses for tailings dams, but the Andean country’s recent entry into industrial mining has caused the government to act.

In July, the government inaugurated its first large-scale copper mine, the Mirador project owned by Chinese consortium CRCC-Tongguan. This month, Canada’s Lundin Gold began mining at the Fruta del Norte site.

Mining companies will also be required to submit periodic audit reports on their projects to try to detect any warning signs.

Ecuador’s Mining Chamber, which groups together the firms operating in the country, said the new regulations represented an “important step forward in terms of technical and environmental compliance.”

(By Alexandra Valencia and Angus Berwick; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)


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