Brazil wants US$43.5bn for Samarco spill
BRAZILIAN prosecutors have launched a civil action against Samarco and its owners Vale and BHP Billiton, seeking R$155bn (US$43.5bn) to repair damage caused by the collapse of two tailings dams in 2015.
The iron tailings dams at the Samarco mine in Minas Gerais, Brazil, failed on 5 November 2015,releasing a 60m m3 mudslide that buried villages and homes, killed at least 17 people and left hundreds homeless. The mudslide made its way into the Doce river and cut off water supplies to hundreds of thousands of people in the region.
Earlier this year, on 2 March, the Samarco partners agreed to pay R$4.4bn (US$1.1bn) in damages over the coming three years in an initial deal with the Brazilian authorities. The money was to pay compensation to residents and provide money to clean up the region, although the Attorney General warned at the time that the agreement did not specify a cap on the amount to be paid.
The Ministerio Publico Federal (MPF) says that it has based the figure in the new lawsuit on the costs so far incurred by BP in cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which currently stands at more than US$55bn. At the moment it is only an estimated figure, and MPF says that it will require a full evaluation of the damage from an independent technical team before it can decide on a final figure. It has demanded that the companies involved make an initial payment of R$7.7bn, 5% of the total estimated cost, within 30 days as a guarantee.
The lawsuit runs to 359 pages, along with around 10,000 pages of technical reports and statements. It includes more than 200 recommendations. The MPF says that the tragedy at the Samarco mine “revealed a series of failures in planning, control and risk management”. As part of a settlement, it is demanding a full, independent audit to be carried out to evaluate the corporate governance at the Vale, BHP Billiton and the Samarco joint venture and to ensure compliance with regulations and recommendations made in reports on the disaster. Amongst other things, the companies will be obliged to adopt a list of emergency measures in case of any future events and adopt more effective containment measures for other tailings ponds.
BHP Billiton says that it has “not received formal notice” of the new claim, and says that it remains committed to helping Samarco rebuild communities and restore the environment damaged by the dam failure.
“We believe that the [2 March] agreement (once approved by the court) provides the long-term remedial and compensation framework for responding to the impact of the Samarco tragedy and the appropriate platform for the parties to work together,” the company said
Vale has not commented on the matter but has released details of all its recovery efforts in the affected area, including the revegetation of areas along the Doce, Carmo and Gualaxo rivers, the renovation of schools in Mariana and Barra Longa and choosing land to rebuild the town of Bento Rodrigues, which was buried in the disaster