MANAMA, BAHRAIN, FEB. 15 -- OPEC's crude production dropped in January, but members of the cartel are beginning to realize that strict adherence to official selling prices is not feasible, the Middle East Economic Survey said today.

"OPEC crude production appears to have dropped to around 17.2 million barrels a day in January," the specialized weekly said, "compared with well over 19 million barrels a day in the fourth quarter of 1987."

It said the drop in production, if maintained for the first quarter of 1988, would average "some 2.6 million barrels a day."

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has been struggling to lower production in efforts to maintain steady oil prices on world markets.

The Nicosia-based publication said policing of the oil market in January came largely from buyers "wary of being stuck with official prices."

It said the perception "among many is that OPEC's actual propensity to sell is much larger, and that this is likely to manifest itself in future months as market-related pricing takes hold."

The journal said insistence on official prices in Abu Dhabi brought about a reduction in output to around 700,000 barrels a day, or half what was being produced in the last six months of 1987.

It said accounting for the present level of Saudi production was a puzzle, because on the one hand "liftings by third-party customers who are still charged at official prices are reported to have fallen sharply," but "actual production remains relatively high, only modestly below the quota level."