The flow of oil into America's Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) has slowed to a trickle.
The program, which is supposed to protect the United States against supply disruptions, has a goal of 500 million barrels in storage by the end of 1982, with an ultimate target of 1 billion barrels. But so far only 240 million barrels of oil have been pumped into underground caverns in Louisiana and Texas.
A Department of Energy official says he sees the SPR slowdown as a potentially dangerous response to public pressure. He adds that the $3.9 billion set aside during 1982 for building the reserve makes a very attractive target for budget cutters faced with growing federal deficits. If the SPR budget is cut , the government's program to squirrel away crude could be further slowed.
The current slowdown is a bad decision because ''we have no recourse against oil cutoffs in the short-term except oil that is in the SPR,'' warns Warren Davis, chief economist for Gulf Oil Corporation.
Many energy experts agree on the SPR's importance. A House Energy Committee staffer warns that ''administration attempts to save money on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will run into a congressional buzzsaw.'' Edwin Rothschild, director of Energy Action, a consumer group, calls on the administration to give the SPR full backing because ''this is our first line of national defense and now, when oil prices are down, is the ideal time to fill it up.''
Petroleum Industry Research Foundation director Lawrence Goldstein calls for ''maximizing the rate of fill.'' He says he regrets that ''unfortunately because of budget restraints, the government is planning to cut back. They use the excuse that there is not sufficient storage capacity in salt caverns to maintain the rate of fill at 300,000 barrels a day.We think that is a poor excuse. There is sufficient tanker availability and, with a lot of refineries and markets closing up, there is a lot of tank storage capacity the government could use on a short-term basis.''
Mr. Goldstein says he is particularly concerned because he expects high interest rates to cause ''a significant drawdown in private storage over the next four to six months, with maybe as much as 300 million to 500 million barrels of drawdown, so that the 240 million barrels of strategic reserves have to be measured against that drawdown.''
The possible decline in the total of US government and private stocks, says a congressional analyst, points to a serious flaw in Reagan administration planning because ''we won't have enough oil to run a war for more than 10 days. The nuclear power programs favored by the administration aren't going to run the new military machine this administration wants to build.''