A year ago, Ecuador appeared to be on the verge of running out of oil - and all the adverse economic consequences this would have for the nation loomed large. Now, that whole scenario is little more than a bad dream. Ecuador's oil prospects are suddenly quite bright.
Thanks to a number of new wells in the northeastern rain forest of the country, oil ''is flowing in abundance again,'' Vice-President Leon Roldos Aguilera reports, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.
These developments are important, nevertheless, for Ecuador is in a serious slump. It has a sizable $6.2 billion foreign debt, unemployment nudging 10 percent, and a general business recession.
The new oil finds come as the world market price for oil has begun to edge up slightly from a low point. Ecuador is selling most of its oil at $28.20 a barrel. In recent days, however, it has begun to sell oil to Brazil and Puerto Rico at 60 and 70 cents a barrel more.
In the past 12 months, the new wells have yielded more than 6.5 million barrels of petroleum. But this is only the beginning. In recent days, these developments have suggested the mounting magnitude of oil prospects in Ecuador:
* The new petroleum zone in the northeast, near the Colombian border, keeps growing in the number of wells in production, with estimates of its total reserves reaching 1 billion barrels - double the previous reserve estimate.
* New exploration in the Pacific Ocean off the port cities of Guayaquil and Salinas are considered extremely promising. Six wells are to be put in place this year, and estimates of the reserves run to 500 million barrels.
* More than 20 foreign oil companies, invited by the current Ecuadorean government to begin explorations, are gearing up their own operations in a variety of locations - some near the already promising northeast developments and others along the Pacific coast. Although these companies are tight-lipped about their plans, there is a wave of optimism running through their organizations.
Edward Trafford, a Canadian oilman here, is quoted as saying that Ecuadorean petroleum prospects ''are promising,'' although he cautions the country not to expect major economic benefits for at least six or seven years. The most important aspect would be to provide Ecuador with the foreign dollar reserves to pay its international debt.