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API calls on Trump to end trade war, positions itself for election year

The U.S. oil and gas industry's largest trade group is going on the offensive in the 2020 election year, rolling out a series of television commercials aimed at politicians and swing-state voters and pushing a message of civil compromise, while acknowledging the industry's responsibility to help prevent climate change.

At the same time, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Mike Sommers called on the Trump administration to find an end to its two-year-old trade war with China so more U.S. oil and LNG can find a market in that country.

Speaking before and after his group's annual State of American Energy event in Washington, D.C., Sommers staked out positions on a variety of issues facing the industry from speeding pipeline permitting processes, to the sudden emergence of hydraulic fracturing as a campaign issue in the Democratic presidential primary, to trade with China.

"We have been very discouraged by the trade posture of this administration, particularly as it comes to energy," Sommers said in a telephone conference with reporters before the event. "You're absolutely right about losing markets in China. We're excited about the Phase I deal. And we're looking forward to seeing details as to what that means for energy."

Sommers continued the theme in front of an audience of more than 800 politicians, lobbyists and industry executives at the lunchtime gathering. "Tariffs against China and other nations take our country in the wrong direction," he said. "While unfair trade practices must be addressed, trade wars block American progress ... let's remove all trade barriers on both sides and restore critical energy export growth."

Saying the hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling were technologically on par with the iPhone, Sommers said banning the practice, as proposed by several Democratic presidential candidates, would cause a global recession with trillions of dollars in losses to the U.S. economy and the elimination of millions of jobs. Sommers said a forthcoming API study would spell out those numbers and that the shale oil and gas boom brought on by the use of the twin technologies is "one of the greatest economic success stories of all time," transforming the U.S. from an energy importing country to a net exporter.

While the trade group has not reached out to any of the candidates regarding fracking, Sommers said API stood ready to explain its position and provide education as soon as it is asked. "No one wants to drill on all federal land," Sommers said, painting that position as part of an "extreme" agenda opposed to all oil and gas use. "I don't believe for one moment there's a majority in either party for that position [banning fracking]," Sommers said.

Backed on stage by labor leaders and the star of TV show "Dirty Jobs," Mike Rowe, Sommers said that more than $1 trillion in new energy infrastructure needs to be built in the next 15 years with developers needing quicker permitting to reach that goal.

Sommers acknowledged that the steepest climb for the industry is climate change. "The American people rightly expect big things from this industry ... Any report on the state of energy should begin with that fact: that we accept that call and that we are meeting it. Every day, our industry is focused on lowering emissions, on increasing our efficiency and on furthering our environmental progress."

API's media campaign will highlight seven communities in and out of the oil and gas patch that have benefited from the shale boom while its TV commercials slotted for public service talk shows will emphasize a message of compromise aimed at the middle-of-the-road voter, API staffers said.

"We have far more in common than you might think," Sommers said.