The Department of Energy yesterday announced plans to deal with winter energy shortages that could result from severe cold weather, a prolonged coal strike or another oil embargo.

"Our situation today on most fuel inventories is substantially better than last year," said David J. Bardin, head of the DOE's winter planning group.

DOE's planning guide lists more than 50 actions that federal, state and county governments can take to ease the potential impact of energy shortages which, during last winter's extreme cold, shut down factories and closed schools in some parts of the county.

Bardin and other energy officials are cautiously optimistic that anticipated spot shortages of natural gas and propane can be eased by switching to other fuels and transferring supplies from one area of the country to another.

DOE's 300-page plan details tactics drawn largely from experiences since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, which cut off 14 per cent of the U.S. oil supplies.

Energy companies would have primary responsibility, under normal circumstances, to shift fuels to prevent a shortage, though the Energy Department will closely monitor fuel supples, Bardin said.

In the event of a moderate shortage state and local governments would be called upon to intitiate conservation measures, such as mandating lower thermostat settings. They would also work with the federal government to shift energy supplies where needed.

Under a moderate shortage at the federal level the Interior Department, for example, could direct gas supplies from the federally owned outer continental shelf wells into gas-short pipelines.

With a severe shortage, the federal government would weigh options such as fuel allocations and drawing down oil from the strategic petroleum reserves.

Gasoline rationing, bans on coal exports and allocating coal and natural gas were ruled out by the energy planners as impractical.

The anticipated coal strike, which DOE officials say is likely, is not expected to have an impact on national energy supplies unless it is prolonged, because the utilities have up to 90-day stockpiles.