The Department of Energy has targeted 41 counties in eight states as potential sites for mammoth synthetic fuels plants to convert coal into oil, gasoline and other liquid fuels.

Selection as a synthetic fuels plants site could bring a county more than 4,000 new jobs and an investment approaching of $2 billion, but also could unleash massive social and environmental problems, a DOE study predicts.

Federal officials apparently have not notified state or local officials that their communities are considered possible hosts for synfuels plants. Energy Department officials say they anticipate that some local communities may not want synthetic fuels plants because of the social and environmental impact. But a far greater number of states and counties are expected to campaign aggressively for the plants because of the jobs and money they will produce.

Because of the damage the plants could cause to the local environment, DOE's first round of selections ruled out synfuel plants for more than 100 counties, including all the possible sites in seven states - among them Virginia and Kentucky.

The DOE study warns that 31 or the 41 possible synfuels plant sites "are potential boom town counties" which are threatened with "rapid and massive immigration" that could produce shortages of public facilities, housing and services, inflation and "social disruption."

Three more counties with oil shale deposits that would be developed under President Carter's energy independence program also fact "the boom town effect," the DOE said.

Some or all of the 44 synthetic-fuels-producing counties may require special federal help in dealing with their unexpected role as the centerpieces of the president's energy strategy, according to the DOE report.

The Energy Department's "Environmental Analysis of Synthetic Liquid Fuels," published July 12 evaluates the problems in locating sites for synfuels plants, but doesn't name the counties that appear to meet the criteria set by federal officials.

At the request of The Washington Post, DOE officials provided this state-by-state-list of counties where synfuels plants could be built:

Colorado: Moffat, Weld, Las Animas.

Illinios: Vermillion, Shelby, Fayette, Lawrence, Hamilton, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson.

Montana: Richland, McCone, Dawson, Wilbaux, Custer, Powder River, Rosebud, Big Horn, Musselshell, Carbon.

North Dakota: Oliver, Mercer, Bowman, Stark, Hettinger, Slope.

Pennsylvania: Clearfield.

Texas: Milam.

West Virginia: Clay, Fayette, Kanawha, Nicholas, Raleigh.

Wyoming: Sheridan, Campbell, Converse, Carbon, Uinta, Sweetwater.

In addition, oil shale extraction plants could be built in Uinta County in Utah, and in Rio Blanco and Garfield counties in Colorado, the DOE said.

The 41 possible synfuels plant sites are an "extremely conservative" estimate of the number of places where such facilities could be located, said Edward Williams of the DOE's Office of Technology Impacts, which prepared the study.

"That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of others out there," said Williams. The DOE report, prepared under tight deadlines, used the strictest possible standards to determine whether synfuels plants could be located in a county without violating air and water pollution standards or other enfironmental rules, he said. Many other counties also may become potential synfuel plant sites after a second analysis is completed by Rand Corp. for the DOE.

The preliminary DOE report found 159 counties in 22 states from Alabama to Wyoming have enough coal - at least 400 million tons - to feed a synthetic fuels plant for 25 years. But the threat of air and water pollution tentatively ruled out more than two-thirds of the coal counties, including all the possible locations in eight states.

Among the states left out in the first round of synfuels plant selection was Kentucky, which has 15 counties with sufficient coal reserves and is one of the nation's leading coal-producing states. Also ruled out by environmental concerns were all sites in Virginia, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Indiana and Alabama.

The threat of increased air pollution is the chief limiting factor for synthetic fuels plant sites in the East, while in the West the problem is water, either too little of it or too much danger of pollution, the DOE study said. CAPTION: Map, Counties Considered for Coal Liquefaction and Oil Shale Plants, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post