The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took formal steps yesterday to ease the pressure on banks that have been hard hit by energy and agriculture loan problems.

The agency, which regulates about 9,000 state-chartered banks, said that banks that are basically healthy but have had their capital eroded by losses on oil and gas or farm loans will have until 1993 to bring the capital back to standard.

The Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the other two federal agencies that supervise banks, are expected to take virtually identical measures within a few days. The regulators announced plans to take the steps several weeks ago, in part to defuse congressional pressure to take stronger steps to help banks with farm loan problems.

A spokesman for the FDIC said that about 4,500 banks, most of them small, are potential candidates for the so-called capital forbearance program. Several thousand more banks under the purview of the comptroller's office or the Federal Reserve also might qualify.

The comptroller's office regulates banks with national charters, and the Federal Reserve regulates state-chartered banks that voluntarily join the Federal Reserve system.

Normally, if a bank's primary capital -- stockholder investment and retained earnings -- falls below 5.5 percent of assets, or if its total capital -- which can include long-term debt securities -- falls below 6 percent, regulators force a bank to take immediate steps to raise new capital and also place constraints on the bank's lending ability.

Under the program announced yesterday in a letter to bank executives from FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman, if a well-run bank's capital falls below the minimum -- but no lower than 4 percent -- the FDIC will take no action, provided the bank develops an acceptable plan to return to standard capital levels by Jan. 1, 1993.

To qualify for the program, a bank must have 25 percent of its total loans in oil and gas or farm loans, and the weakened capital position must be due mainly to "external problems in the agricultural and/or oil and gas sectors of the economy," Seidman said.