Oil production in the Soviet Union may be peaking now, and the Soviets and their communist bloc allies who now have an oil surplus, may need to import up to 700,000 barrels a day in three years, according to predictions by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The CIA figures on Soviet oil production are contained in a recent classified report. Unclassified parts of that report were released yesterday in a statement by Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Intelligence Oversight Committee.
In the report, the CIA predicts that at best, the Soviets will be producing only 10 million barrels a day in 1985, but more likely will be producing less than that. The current production rate in the Soviet Union is 11.5 million barrels daily.
The CIA reported decreases in petroleum production everywhere in the Soviet Union except in western Siberia. Production nationwide hit a record 11.73 million barrels daily in April, the report said, and has been declining steadily ever since.
Soviet oil production could "plummet by a third in the next six years," according to Aspin's version of the CIA report.
The Aspin statement warned observers not to "gloat over Moscow's predicament," because a decrease in communist bloc oil production also would mean "a cut in worldwide fuel supplies - which in turn means more upward pressure on prices."
Communist countries currently export about 1 million barrels daily to the West, according to Aspin.
In 1977, a similar CIA report became the subject of a bitter controversy, and the CIA was chided in a 30-page report of the Senate Intelligence Committee for predicting that the Soviets would be importing 3.5 million to 4.5 million barrels of oil daily by 1985.
After those 1977 predictions, critics charged the agency with playing with the facts to build domestic support for President Carter's energy program. In a televised speech April 15, 1977, the president used CIA statistics to announce that there was less oil and gas in the world than previously was thought.
Criticisms of that initial CIA prediction of Soviet oil production essentially centered on the apparent failure to consider how much oil the Soviets could save through strict conservation measures.
Critics argued then that in a state with a planned economy, strict oil conservation measures could be imposed and consumption of coal and gas increased.
In his statement yesterday, Aspin said that after two years of "assessing a growing body of data, the CIA has reached essentially the same conclusion as in 1977 - that the Soviet Union in the very near future will need to import oil."
Aspin said the CIA report suggests critics "have exaggerated the opportunities available to the Soviets" for conservation.
For instance, Aspin said, "The Russians can't save fuel by switching to small cars since they have hardly any cars to begin with. They can't switch from trucks to railroads since almost all their long-distance freight moves by rail already."