Responding to worldwide oil shortages and price increases, the Potomac Electric Power Co. yesterday petitioned the District government to lower temporarily its air quality standards to allow the use of more plentiful higher-sulphur oil to save scarce home heating oil for consumers.

The request was made for the Benning generating station in Northeast Washington, which under Dirtrict standards must burn a combination of No. 6 oil, which has a relatively high sulphur content, and No. 2 oil, which is lower in sulphur but is in short supply due to the shutoff of Iranian oil supplies.

If the request is granted, Pepco will be allowed to burn No. 6 oil, which is also cheaper than number No. 2, for the rest of the year or until the oil shortage has been alleviated.

Pepco officials yesterday said that if the request is rejected Pepco will continue to use the No. 2 oil but "other people with severe shortage will just run out," the official said.

If the request is granted Pepco will be allowed to emit a gray haze, which is prohibited under District law, that may be seen by persons in the District, a Pepco spokesman said.

But Charles Nicolson, a Pepco vice president, said "The effect of such a shift in oil use on the environment would be minimal. While emissions may exceed present D.C. standards, they would not violate federal air quality standards."

A Virginia Electric & Power Co. spokesman said the utility has not filed such a request and has not yet decided if it will.

A spokesman for the Balimore Gas and Electric Co. said its oil supplier said it is having trouble getting low sulphur content oil.

BG&E filed a petition with the state of Maryland several weeks ago to allow it to burn higher-sulphur content oil, but the company later withdrew the request pending further investigation of other possible sources of oil, the spokesman said.

Action on Pepco's request could could take up to 40 days, according to Bailus Walker, director of environmental health for the District. "If the suppliers are saying they don't have no. 2 oil," the city could temporarily lower air quality standards pending a dicision on Pepco's longer-term request, Walker said.

Pepco announced last week that the uncertainty of Iranian oil production would result in increase from 10 to 20 percent which would automatically be passed along to its customers. Pepco supplies electricity to 477,000 customers in the District, suburban Maryland and parts of suburban Virginia.

A Pepco official said yesterday that an average bill in March of $23.77 for a District customer would increase by about 3 percent or 70 cents.

The Pepco officials said that from Jan. 1 to Feb. 1 this year the price of 1 percent sulphur No. 6 oil rose from $15.45 a barrel to $16.45 a barrel. Two percent sulphur No. 6 oil rlse in price during the same period from $12.61 to $12.86 and No. 2 oil rose from an average of $16 last year to its current price of $18.

Oil accounts for about 36 percent of the fuel Pepco burns to produce electricity and coal accounts for the rest.

Pepco officials said its request is aimed at helping relieve the national and locla shortage of No. 2 oil.

Yesterday the 20-member International Energy Agency agreed to reduce their overall oil consumption by 5 percent, in response to a request by the United States.

The reduction is expected to result in a number of mandatory and voluntary conservation measures including weekend closings of gasoline stations, restrictions on temperatures in nonresidential buildings and stricter enforcement of the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit as early as this summer.