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Drilling in shale formations, he said, only poses a small risk to those living nearby. It is neither life threatening nor long lasting and can be controlled in the event of an accident.

Drillers force millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and some hazardous chemicals into shale formations. The technique breaks up rock and creates escape routes for oil and gas. If the drilling wastewater is not treated properly or if it seeps through cracked drilling pipes, it could contaminate drinking water.

The industry’s biggest challenge, he said, is “taking an illiterate public and try to help them understand why we can manage these risks.”

ENERGY SECURITY

Tillerson made a distinction between energy security and energy dependence. He said that energy security _ making sure that the economy has access to energy _ is crucial.

But he said access to energy is not in peril. “Some of the fears around energy security are not well founded,” he said.

The quest for energy independence, though, is misguided, he said. It doesn’t matter where the U.S. gets oil because crude is priced globally. Even if the U.S. used only oil from North America, a disruption in the Middle East would increase global prices, hurt the U.S. and global economies, and force Americans to pay more at the pump.

Even if the U.S. no longer needed Middle Eastern oil, it would likely want to play a major role in helping maintain the region’s security, Tillerson said.

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AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this story from Washington. Jonathan Fahey can be reached at http://twitter.com/JonathanFahey.