By Jana Pruet
DALLAS (Reuters) - A team of scientists has launched a study of seismic activity in North Texas to determine if fracking may be the cause of a series of earthquakes that have rattled two towns in the region since November.
The seismic activity in Azle and Reno, northwest of Fort Worth, has national implications, with opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, saying what is happening in the towns points to the dangers of the energy source extraction method.
"It's important that we don't rush to conclusions," Heather DeShon, associate professor of geophysics at Southern Methodist University and leader of the research team, told a news conference in Dallas on Friday.
DeShon said the start of the earthquake series has coincided with start of injection wells used for fracking in the area. The study is expected to take six months to a year.
Fracking, which involves the injection of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure into bedrock to increase the flow of oil or gas, has been the culprit in some small earthquakes around the country.
It is not suspected as the cause of the bigger and more frequent quakes that have occurred recently, according to the Interior Department.
Experts say billions of dollars are at stake, as potential new regulations could affect the oil and gas industry's profits and as lawsuits by property owners with earthquake-related claims make their way through the legal system.
In January, SMU seismologists installed a network of 12 seismic stations in and around the two towns, where at least two injection wells for fracking are in operation.
Texas has seen a new energy boom due to fracking, which has also helped reduce U.S. reliance on foreign energy sources.
(Reporting by Jana Pruet; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)