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Oil Glut Is a Game of Bait and Switch

March 23, 1986

The extensive March 2 story on the oil glut and consequent worldwide collapse of petroleum prices was a welcome analysis of a crucial aspect of today's volatile international marketplace.

However, I looked in vain for any discussion of what I believe to be the critical issue. That is the outright state of economic warfare declared by the Saudis, with Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani threatening to have oil go below the $10-per-barrel level.

Uncle Sam and this nation's auto makers, protected once again by the politically oriented voluntary quotas established by the Japanese, have snapped at the bait like hungry trout in the warm sun.

John F. Lawrence in his March 2 column noted that "U.S. auto producers have few qualms about pushing once again to sell the bigger, less fuel-efficient models," and that suicidal game has been made even easier by the relaxation of the fuel-economy standards.

Furthermore, Lawrence asked, "To what extent have the Japanese stressed costlier versions of their cars to maximize what they could make on each sale?" The real drain upon the U.S. economy, and scourge for our already polluted atmosphere, is that our roads will once again be jammed with huge gas guzzlers for years to come.

Now, to reward the Saudis for reducing the monthly outflow of U.S. dollars spent upon foreign petroleum--or to pay them off to cut short their ruthless warfare on non-OPEC nations and renegade OPEC members--President Reagan has asked for weapons sales of about $300 million to Saudi Arabia.

At what point now will we see a concerted effort by Saudi Arabia to reduce its oil production in order to begin reasserting worldwide control by a reorganized Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries? By then, marginal, high-cost wells off the coast of England and Norway and on Canada's North Slope may well be out of business.

Recently, Texaco announced that it had capped about 1,500 California wells. How much potential gas and oil production is lost this way?

The great "bait and switch" game is in full swing. Americans will be swinging by the neck for a long time to come.

DAVID ALAN SAFER

Venice

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