Ecuador unveils tighter rules for mining waste dams after Brazil disaster

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers search for victims of a collapsed tailings dam owned by Brazilian mining company Vale SA, in Brumadinho, Brazil February 2, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador on Wednesday unveiled new, tighter regulations for the design and construction of mining waste dams, seeking to avoid disasters like the tailings dam collapse that killed hundreds at a Vale SA site in Brazil last year.

The cash-strapped Andean nation is seeking to attract more mining investment to diversify its oil-dependent economy. But a small tailings dam at a mine run by Ecuadorean firm Austro Gold collapsed earlier this month.

In a statement outlining the new regulations, Ecuador’s Ministry of Energy and Non-Renewable Natural Resources said it would ban the use of so-called upstream tailings dams, which are cheaper to build but have higher risks because their walls are constructed over a base of mining waste, rather than on solid ground.

Brazil instituted a similar ban after the January 2019 collapse at the Vale facility in the town of Brumadinho, which killed more than 240 people.

Ecuador’s ministry said companies would have 18 months to adjust their infrastructure to comply with the new rules. It added that it would institute annual audits to evaluate the stability of the dams, and called on companies to develop an early warning system to monitor possible accidents.

Large-scale mining began in Ecuador last year with the inauguration of Canadian miner Lundin Gold Inc’s Fruta del Norte gold mine and the Chinese-owned Mirador copper mining project. The government expects some $1.3 billion in mining investment through January 2022.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Tom Brown