BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian iron ore miner Vale (VALE5.SA) said on Tuesday it signed a non-binding agreement with BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) to allow the use of its Timbopeba pit to deposit tailings from iron miner Samarco when that company restarts operations. The deal, which will become definitive pending commercial negotiations and government approvals, is the latest step for Samarco to resume operations suspended in 2015 after the collapse of a dam holding mining waste, or tailings. The rupture killed 19 people and caused Brazil's worst environmental disaster.
Samarco is jointly owned by Vale and BHP Billiton.
In compensation for the transfer of the pit, Samarco will supply Vale with non-processed ore for some time, Vale said in a statement.
Samarco expects to receive a preliminary environmental licence in the first quarter, an important step in its effort to resume operations by mid-2017, Chief Executive Roberto Carvalho said in an interview on Dec 6.
A return to operations is vital for Samarco to repay its mounting debt and negotiate with creditors.
Reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by Peter Cooney