By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the largest U.S. energy industry group on Tuesday warned that Americans risk choosing the “wrong path” in the 2020 presidential election if they vote for a candidate seeking to fight climate change by banning drilling.

The chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute said such proposals from Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Republican President Donald Trump pose a threat to the economy, and urged a room filled with nearly 800 energy executives to push back against them.

The industry group also announced a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, focused on U.S. political swing states, that bills the oil and gas industry as a leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions through improvements in technology.

“We know many candidates now are talking about this industry and we want to make sure the American people hear our story,” said API President and CEO Mike Sommers.

U.S. Democrats hoping to run against Trump in November’s election have vowed to rapidly shift the country away from planet-warming fossil fuels if elected to help avert the worst impacts of global climate change.

To do so, several candidates have promised to end new drilling on public lands, and some have proposed a national ban on hydraulic fracking – a controversial drilling technology that pumps water and chemicals into rock formations to access petroleum deposits.

They argue that transitioning to a zero-emission economy would create millions of new jobs in clean energy industries like solar and wind that would compensate for jobs lost in drilling and mining.

The United States has become the world’s top oil and gas producer thanks to a fracking-led drilling boom. The API will release a report later this week showing that a fracking ban would put over 7 million jobs at risk by 2022 and cost the economy $7.1 trillion by 2030, Sommers said.

U.S. emissions of the gases that scientists blame for climate change, meanwhile, have been declining for about a decade, thanks mainly to the replacement of scores of old and inefficient coal-fired power plants with natural gas facilities.

But the future of U.S. emissions has been cast into doubt as the Trump administration seeks to boost domestic fossil fuels development by rolling back Obama-era climate protections and other environmental regulations.

While the oil industry has been a vocal supporter of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks, the API’s ad campaign will cast the industry as an ally of Democrats and environmentalists seeking to cut emissions.

“On issues that matter, like climate change, we are more alike than we think,” according to one of the ads.

(Writing by Valerie Volcovici, Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Marguerita Choy)

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