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Vale's giant S11D iron ore project and Railroad Carajás, Pará, Brazil


S11D is the largest mining project in Vale's history and the largest in the history of iron ore mining in the world. Vale has been investing heavily in this project (6,4 billion dollars for the mine and about 8 billion dollars in the Railroad and Port) to intensify the extraction and export of high quality iron ore. The estimated production capacity of S11D is 90 Mtpa with a high iron content of 66.7% [1]. This production capacity corresponds to approximately one fifth of the total Brazilian iron ore extraction. To enable the massive export of this expanded production, the project also counted on the duplication of the Carajás Railroad – which is 892 km long and passes through 27 municipalities in Pará and Maranhão – and the expansion of the Ponta da Madeira terminal in São Luís (MA) [1]. The operation of S11D initiated at the end of 2016 [2].

Vale presents the S11D as an environmentally friendly project based on the facts that the mine does not occupy a significant area of the Carajás National Forest and that it uses technological advances that save water, fuel, etc. [12]. However, the environmental licensing process of S11D shows a different reality than the story told in Vale's reports. Legal obstacles were removed so that Vale could mine these large deposits of Carajás. The Decree 6,640 of 2008 relaxed the legislation applied to underground natural cavities, which otherwise would have to be preserved, preventing large-scale mining in the Southeastern Carajás Mountains, where S11D is located [15, 3]. Also, despite being in a Conservation Unit, governed by the Federal Law 9,985/2000, the project put at risk the ecosystem of canga (a type of savannah) of high ecological importance – and already threatened by iron mining [16,3].

More serious, given the great and irreversible environmental destruction that would be generated by S11D, Vale negotiated with the environmental authorities to compensate the damages in a savanna area in Serra da Bocaina, outside the limits of Carajás National Forest, in a region of great complexity of land ownership. The problems resulting from this situation were exposed in a letter sent to ICMBio by organizations and social movements in 2016 [4]. About 5,000 hectares of Vale's intended areas were federal public lands occupied by posseiros or claimed by landless families to create settlements. Another 1,000 hectares of the Carajás II Settlement were purchased by Vale without INCRA's consent, as well as other areas titled by Terra Legal program, which could be in an irregular situation. By acquiring these areas (including some public areas) in order to comply with the compensation, Vale ignored claims by dozens of landless families and left future legal problems for ICMBio. In spite of such problems, the Parque Nacional dos Campos Ferruginosos was created in July 2017 [17]. There were also violent expropriations. In the Grotto Mutum Settlement, about 120 families were dispossessed and their plantations were destroyed on February 3, 2016. And at the São Luís farm, there was a firefight with the arrival of the police [4, 5, 6]. After that, in February 2016, about 600 families from seven camps of landless rural workers occupied the access road to the S11D Project area.

In addition, the S11D iron ore processing infrastructure was also built outside the Carajás National Forest, directly impacting more than 90 families in the Racha Placa rural community. As of 2008, residents were contacted by a company called Diagonal Urbano. From then on, they had a series of problems with the payment of indemnities. In June 2014, residents of the community paralyzed the construction of the S11D to pressure Vale to comply with the deal agreed with the former company [8, 9].

Finally, though the project was only viable with the whole new transport and infrastructure logistic, the environmental license was fragmented in many parts so that the cumulative impacts of the whole project were not considered. This was criticized by many ONGs and environmentalists [10, 11, 13]. This also meant that with the approval of S11D, the other licenses (railroad and port) were only a formal matter – there was no real possibility of rejection. This is because, due to the increase in production capacity of 90 million tons per year, it was necessary to transport all this ore. Therefore, the duplication of the Carajás Railroad was urgent to Vale.

The Carajás Railroad passes through 27 municipalities, 28 Conservation Units and crosses more than 100 quilombolas and indigenous communities in Pará and Maranhão. The duplication of the railroad increased the impacts and accidents already experienced at these places – such as noise pollution, house structures concussion, difficulty in crossing the railway, trampling caused by trains and deaths. Given this scenario, the number of protests on the rails has grown significantly from 2012, when the construction began. In 2012, there were 3 demonstrations along the railroad; in 2014, 14 demonstrations and in 2015, 26 [13, 14]. One of the main demands is greater safety for the crossing of railways, such as overpasses and walkways. Between 2010 and 2017, there were 39 mortal trampling along the railroad. The years 2015 and 2017 recorded the highest numbers of deaths, seven in each year. However, Vale's main response has been to criminally prosecute those who manifest on the train tracks. In these five years of duplication, more than 170 people have already been prosecuted by Vale in Pará and Maranhão courts for interdicting the railroad [11, 18].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Vale's giant S11D iron ore project and Railroad Carajás, Pará, Brazil
State or province:Pará
Location of conflict: Canaã dos Carajás and 27 municipalities along the Carajás Railroad
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mineral processing
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Iron ore

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The S11D, with a production capacity of 90 million tons per year, is the largest iron mining project in the world. It is located in the Serra Sul of the National Forest of Carajás, in Pará. The processing facilities are in the municipality of Canaã dos Carajás, outside the National Forest.

The reserves of block D of the Serra Sul (hence the name S11D) are 4.2 billion tons, with an average iron content of 66.7%. The project began operations at the end of 2016. The ore is transported by the Carajás Railroad to the Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal in São Luís (Maranhão). [1, 2]

Project area:3,000
Level of Investment:14,300,000,000.00
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:30,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2008
Company names or state enterprises:Vale (Vale) from Brazil
Relevant government actors:Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES)
Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio)
Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA)
Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (INCRA)
International and Finance InstitutionsBanco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) -
Rede Justiça nos Trilhos -
Centro de Educação, Pesquisa e Assessoria Sindical e Popular (CEPASP)
Movimento Debate e Ação
Observatório Socioambiental do Sudeste Paraense
Direitos Humanos econômicos, sociais, culturais e ambientais (Dhesca) -
Sindicato dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais de Canaã dos Carajás
Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsRespiratory disorders
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There were several legal and political impasses for the implementation of this project. Its environmental licensing depended on changes in the Brazilian legislation and the displacement of surrounding rural communities and landless workers, as well as a fragmented analysis of socio-environmental impacts (minimizing the visibility of the serious impacts of the duplication of the railroad). Vale has overcome all these "obstacles" to enable the largest iron ore project in the world.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[15] Brazil. Decreto no 6.640, de 7 de novembro de 2008. Diário Oficial da União, Brasília, DF, 10 nov. 2008, Seção 1, p.8.

[16] Brazil. Lei no 9.985, de 18 de julho de 2000. Regulamenta o art. 225, § 1o, incisos I, II, III e VII da Constituição Federal, institui o Sistema Nacional de Unidades de Conservação da Natureza e dá outras providências. Diário Oficial da União, Brasília, DF, 19 julho 2000.

[17] Brazil. Decreto de 5 de junho de 2017. Dispõe sobre a criação do Parque Nacional dos Campos Ferruginosos, localizado nos Municípios de Canaã de Carajás e Parauapebas, Estado do Pará.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[10] Coelho, T. Projeto Grande Carajás: trinta anos de desenvolvimento frustrado. Rio de Janeiro: Ibase, 2014.

[12] Vale. Projeto Ferro Carajás S11D: Um novo impulso ao desenvolvimento sustentável do Brasil. 2013

[13] Justiça nos Trilhos. Revista Não Vale. S11D duplicará lucros, mas já triplica conflitos. 2017.

[11] Faustino, F. Mineração e Violações de Direitos: O Projeto Ferro Carajás S11D, da Vale S.A. Relatório plataforma DHESCA. Açailândia, 2013.

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Vale. Relatório Anual Form 20-F (2002-2018).

[2] Vale. S11D fortalece liderança do minério brasileiro no mercado mundial. 21/dez/2018,-no-Para,-fortalece-lideranca-do-minerio-brasileiro-no-mercado-mundial.aspx

[4] Inesc. Um novo parque de proteção integral na Amazônia: uma boa notícia? 03/12/2016

[7] Justiça nos Trilhos. Trabalhadores acampados ocupam estrada que dá acesso ao projeto S11D em Canaã. 22 de fevereiro de 2016.

[5] Justiça nos Trilhos. Mais “chumbo grosso” pode vir por aí! 20 de março de 2017.

[6] El País. Bedinelli. Os sem-terra desafiam a gigante Vale na Amazônia. 11 de dezembro de 2016.

[9] O Estado de São Paulo. Obra Da S11d Faz 90 Famílias Saírem De Vila. 29 Junho 2014 .,obra-da-s11d-faz-90-familias-sairem-de-vila-imp-,1520551

[8] Justiça nos Trilhos. Maior projeto da Vale é paralisado por população atingida. 3 de junho de 2014.

[18] Apublica. Processados pela Vale. 23 de novembro de 2017

[14] Justiça nos trilhos. Mapa das comunidades afetadas pelo Programa Grande Carajás. 3 de abril de 2014

[3] ICMBio. O Avanço da Mineração na Floresta Nacional de Carajás, Pará, versus a conservação do Ecossistema de Canga. In: Bossi, D.; Santos, L.; Chammas, D.; Cruz, M (Eds). Não Vale – Duplicação do lucro privado e dos impactos coletivos. 2 ed. Acailândia (MA): Justiça nos Trilhos, 2012.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Documentary "Minerando Conflitos" about S11D

Other documents

A vale extra minérios. Nós produzimos alimentos. Protest in Canaã dos Carajás against Vale, which since 2000 began to buy land from small and medium farmers and settled farmers for the implementation of mining projects.érios_-_nós_produzimos_alimentos.jpg

Occupation of the Carajás Railroad by indigenous communities of Maranhão The Carajás Railroad passes less than 10 kilometers away from the Rio Pindaré indigenous territory, which houses eight villages and is located in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in Maranhão.ígena_na_Ferrovia_Carajás.jpg

Meta information

Contributor:Beatriz Macchione Saes, UFF-Brazil, [email protected]
Last update12/02/2019



A vale extra minérios. Nós produzimos alimentos.

Protest in Canaã dos Carajás against Vale, which since 2000 began to buy land from small and medium farmers and settled farmers for the implementation of mining projects.

Occupation of the Carajás Railroad by indigenous communities of Maranhão

The Carajás Railroad passes less than 10 kilometers away from the Rio Pindaré indigenous territory, which houses eight villages and is located in the municipality of Bom Jardim, in Maranhão.