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Oil 'glut' could vanish when economic slump ends

Americans can't afford a false sense of energy security by the present appearance of an ''oil glut,'' according to the Reagan administration. The message being delivered around the country by Interior Secretary James Watt, Energy Secretary James Edwards, and others is that supply is outpacing demand not because of great strides in conservation and energy efficiency, but because of an economic recession affecting demand throughout the world.

Once the recession slump is cured, it's argued, a surge in demand could trigger crisis shortages, jerking the world back to 1973 style problems - unless careful preparations are initiated now.

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US oil imports did fall to a six-year low in October. But administration spokesmen, along with the American Petroleum Institute, the International Energy Agency, and Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister, Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, warn that the current world oil surplus and sluggish demand are temporary and misleading.

Five months ago in Paris, the International Energy Agency (IEA), with a membership representing most noncommunist developed countries, called for swift action to prevent a return to serious shortages. IEA forecasts conclude that continuing the West's current energy policies unchanged would lead to major supply shortfalls by 1990. The IEA calls on member nations to encourage energy conservation and the development of coal, nuclear, and alternate power sources to reduce dependency on imported oils.

The same concerns are being raised in Texas - in the shadow of oil and gas rigs setting production records every month. Mac Wallace, senior member of the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates state oil and gas production, said at the commission's November hearing that talk about an oil glut is dangerously misleading. Despite setting new records in drilling, he said, ''We are still almost 40 percent dependent on unstable foreign sources for our daily crude oil needs.''

Mr. Wallace wants an accelerated program for completing the $40 billion, 4, 800 mile Alaska pipeline to deliver natural gas to ''the lower 48'' before shortages develop.

For the US oil industry, one immediate answer is to do for natural gas production what Reagan did for oil production last January: deregulate. Immediate decontrol of natural gas prices, say oilmen, would stimulate both new gas production and conservation measures by allowing gas prices to rise.

But even in Houston, some voices disagree. American Gas Association president George Lawrence told a recent meeting here that natural gas price decontrol could increase average home heating costs almost two and one half times and result in increased oil imports as private and industrial consumers switch to oil.

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