Democratic candidates split on drilling

COLUMBIA - The massive oil spill hitting the Gulf Coast had two of South Carolina's three Democratic gubernatorial candidates leery of drilling and a third saying during a debate tonight that the nation needs to bear the risk for energy independence.

A slick that started after an oil rig exploded and sank is spreading and being fed by as much as 210,000 gallons leaking daily.

"I don't care how much oil is out there, we should never drill for oil off of South Carolina's coast," Education Superintendent Jim Rex said during the South Carolina ETV debate. He noted it was too dangerous for coastal ecology and the state's tourism industry.

Rex was open to natural gas exploration. "But oil? Absolutely not," he said in the hourlong debate broadcast statewide and streamed over the Internet.

But Rex said the risks are much lower for natural gas.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden said there's a low likelihood oil would be found off the state's coast. But "there is a a great likelihood that we have a thriving tourism economy and we have wonderful pristine areas within South Carolina. It is certainly not worth the risk," Sheheen said. "I regret what I've seen happen on the Gulf Coast, and I want to make sure that never happens to South Carolina."

In an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press, Sheheen also said he supports drilling for natural gas.

State Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston is pushing legislation to encourage offshore drilling for oil.

He noted that he was born in Louisiana. "Accidents will happen. But we just cannot continue to depend on foreign oil," Ford said. "If they've got oil out there, we need to find out and we need to make sure we use the best technology available to make sure the spills like what happened on the Gulf Coast don't happen."

Ford said someone must have been sleeping on the job to allow the accident to happen. "We cannot let an accident stop us from being a proud, free country."

Ford, Rex and Sheheen are vying in the June 8 primary in bids to replace Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who under state law can't seek a third term.

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