How is the gasoline crisis going in Virginia?

The state is in good shape as far as gasoline availability is concerned for the rest of July, said State Energy Office Director George Jones in Richmond on Monday.

Later that day, Norman McTague, Jones' assistant, was all gloom and doom as he told a meeting of gasoline retailers in Virginia Beach that shortages will continue at least until fall. "I don't really see an ending," said McTague.

The apparent contradiction was ammunition for the energy office's critics.

"That's the very essence of the problem down there," complained Del. Martin H. Perper (R-Fairfax). "Obviously the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. That office just really needs to get its act together."

Perper and other Northern Virginia politicians of both parties have criticized the office - and many also have attacked Republican Gov. John N. Dalton - for allocating too little of the state's setaside emergency gasoline supplies to the area in May and June. This month, the state more than doubled its allocation to Northern Virginia and soothed some political nerves.

Energy director Jones attempted to reconcile his and McTague's comments yesterday by saying the two really were not contradictory.

"I meant that we're a little less close to the brink of disaster but we're still not in the clear - and I think that's the point Norm was trying to make," said Jones.

"I was a little made because I told Norm I was trying to exude calm confidence to try to cool things off a big."

Dalton press Secretary Paul G. Edwards said he also saw the two statements as compatible.

"We're a lot better off than we were, but there's no question that for the indefinite future we're going to have shortage of supply," said Edwards, "I think everybody realizes that."

Both Jones and Edwards again defended Virginia's distribution of setaside gasoline, saying the state had rushed extra supplies to Northern Virginia once it became clear the area was getting too little of the state's allocation. Northern Virginia was virtually the only part of the state to suffer from gasoline lines that began in May, worsened in June and continued until early July.

McTague could not be reached for comment.

In Virginia Beach on Monday he reportedly faced a crowd of irate state retailers who were upset that Northern Virginia had gotten about 40 percent of July's allocation.

"I'm providing fuel to Northern Virginia because of my instructions and I think I will say no more," McTague was quoted as saying. CAPTION: Illustration, Wire service stories show the extent of confusion on Virginia gasoline status. The Washington Post