COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – Have scientists found an explanation behind a swarm of earthquakes that have plagued South Carolina’s Midlands region?
Nearly 60 earthquakes have been reported along the I-20 corridor between the town of Elgin and Lugoff – located near Columbia – since December 27, 2021.
A frequent question state emergency preparedness officials receive are those asking about mining, or even fracking, in South Carolina.
But officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) addressed those questions last month saying permitted mine sites in that area are surface pits, which are typically 30 feet or less in depth.
“Their shallowness would not be expected to contribute to seismic activity, especially with recent earthquakes being recorded at 6,336 to 12,672 feet deep, according to the United States Geological Survey,” the agency said.
DHEC officials said even the deepest permitted mine site – 900 feet – does not come close to the depth in which the earthquakes were reported and is located 75 miles away from Elgin.
There are no fracking operations in South Carolina.
Geologists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Geological Survey, University of South Carolina, and College of Charleston have been investigating the earthquake swarm and believe the events are not part of “some mysterious, unexplained force.”
They are exploring a possible effect the nearby Wateree River may be having on the frequency of the earthquakes. Officials believe the river’s location, its changing water levels, and seasonal rainfall, could be contributing factors.
“Though the frequency of these minor earthquakes may alarm some, we do not expect a significantly damaging earthquake in South Carolina at this time, even though we know our state had them decades ago,” SCEMD Director Kim Stenson said.
Researchers say the Eastern Piedmont Fault System – along which these earthquakes have been occurring in the Midlands – runs northeast to southwest, from Georgia to Virginia, and are not connected with faults near Charleston.
More studies are needed, according to researchers, but they noted that current knowledge of other earthquake swarms cause by or affected by water and pore-pressure changes indicate a similar circumstance in South Carolina.
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