Big oil and gas is starting to really like U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.
The junior Republican from South Carolina is listed as the No. 4 recipient in campaign donations this election season that businesses tied to the oil and gas industry gave to the members of Congress' upper chamber.
Scott, a senator for less than two years, has collected $226,401 for the 2014 election cycle from groups with oil and gas ties, according to an analysis by the government watchdog OpenSecrets.org/Center for Responsive Politics.
The amount puts Scott sandwiched in between Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu ($370,586 in donations) and Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe ($199,850). Both of these lawmakers represent traditional and long-established oil and gas-producing states, which is not how most would describe South Carolina.
For comparison, senior Republican S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham is ranked 19th on the group's listing, with $65,750 in receipts.
Scott's collections come as the controversial search for oil and gas deposits off the East Coast - a path of exploration that he supports - was given a federal green light last month to pursue seismic testing. Additionally, he serves on the Senate's Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has great sway over how America's fuel policy plays out.
In a recent interview, Scott said the amount of money he has received from the industry is not out of sync with his overall fundraising effort. He amassed more than $5.7 million in campaign cash for this election cycle to cover a minor challenge in the recent June GOP primary and for facing long-shots Democrat Joyce Dickerson and American Party candidate Jill Bossi in November.
He also sees the prospects of finding tappable fuels off the Atlantic Coast as a huge job creator for South Carolina if significant deposits can be found.
"Opening the Atlantic to energy production could create 280,000 jobs, add $24 billion to the economy, generate $51 billion in government revenue, and help produce over 1 million barrels of oil and natural gas per day," his website says.
Russ Choma, a money-in-politics reporter with Open Secrets, said Scott's campaign collections from gas and oil sources don't seem to be out of the Washington norm when considering his committee assignment on Capitol Hill.
"The committee that you're on dictates your fundraising," he said. "And it dictates your fundraising potential."
Oil, gas and energy sources also "represent such a large industry, such a dominant industry" in the nation's economy, Choma said.
Scott's emergence in the energy debate drew national attention last year when he delivered the GOP response to President Obama's weekly national address. Among his issues were targeting Obama's reluctance to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the U.S., and the White House's energy strategy overall.
"President Obama's failed leadership on energy policy will cost every American family more when you buy food at the grocery store, take a family vacation, or turn your air conditioner on this summer," Scott said at the time.
Closer to home, one of the nation's biggest oil and gas exploration debates affecting South Carolina took on a new phase last month when federal regulators approved the use of underwater sonic cannons to search for oil and gas deposits off the East Coast.
But those opposed say allowing drilling off the Carolina coast could mean a huge liability, warning that just one significant spill could cripple tourism, fishing and recreation industries significantly, just like what the southern Gulf Coast saw after the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010.
"There's a lot of risk associated with activities that go with the oil and gas industry," warned Hamilton Davis, the energy and climate director with the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League.
Scott, meanwhile, in the spring offered his Southern Energy Access Jobs Act, which he said could be used to train veterans to work in oil and natural gas production if significant pockets are found. Also, the bill would support expanding and broadening the study of geological and geophysical sciences at the college level, including among historically black colleges and universities.
In the meantime, Scott said it's worth moving forward to see if there are resources that are reachable off the coast.
Bossi and Dickerson, meanwhile, both gave statements indicating they did not overwhelmingly support the idea of offshore drilling.
"I'm against anything that's going to mess with or take away the pristine (nature) of our coastline," Dickerson said.
Bossi said she has not investigated the drilling issue in depth, but also expressed concerns about protecting the coast.
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