2 S.C. Democratic candidates for governor oppose offshore oil rigs

COLUMBIA --- Two of the Democrats vying to be South Carolina's governor oppose drilling for oil off the state's coast, but they advocate offshore exploration of natural gas. The third Democrat supports drilling for both gas and oil.

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State schools Superintendent Jim Rex and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said they doubt, as many experts do, that there's enough oil off the coast to be commercially feasible. Rex said even if there were enough, the risk to beaches would not be worth it.

"If BP doesn't know how to respond to this kind of malfunction or crisis, the likelihood is, no oil company in the world would know," Rex said of the crude that's been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Natural gas doesn't carry those environmental risks, said Rex, a 68-year-old former college president. Once a commercial fisherman, Rex was the only candidate of either party to suggest the rigs could benefit the fishing industry as artificial reefs, but he said they either need to be low-profile or far enough out so they can't be seen from land.

Charleston state Sen. Robert Ford, a Louisiana native, introduced legislation for the 2009-10 session directing South Carolina's environmental agency to speed up applications of offshore drilling for oil and gas after federal restrictions are removed. It was seen largely as a symbolic bill to welcome the offshore business, and the measure has stalled since April 21, a day after the BP-leased oil rig exploded.

Ford largely dismissed questions on energy, saying he does not believe it's the role of the governor to deal with such policies. He said he's not a scientist, so he couldn't speak with authority. He also said the Gulf accident should not delay offshore exploration, especially for natural gas, provided the federal government does more to regulate the industry.

Ford says he supports wind energy as a job creator.

Rex and Sheheen also promote alternative energies as a way to rebuild the state economy. Sheheen said the state needs a cohesive energy plan, rather than letting research universities do things ad hoc.

Rex and Sheheen said they support putting wind turbines far off South Carolina's coast, so as not to hurt tourism. They two also said they disagree with the Obama administration plan to keep the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository from opening. The Democrats said waste now stored in South Carolina should be moved to the Nevada site.

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