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VALDEZ, Alaska, April 1— All through this decade, while earning billions from petroleum, Alaskans have allowed the oil industry to save money by curtailing preparations for an environmental emergency like the one that has now fouled Prince William Sound.

One dramatic example was an industry decision in 1981 to disband a 20-member emergency team prepared for round-the-clock response to oil spills in Valdez Harbor and the sound. Town leaders dropped their complaints quickly after the industry consortium that owns the Trans-Alaska Pipeline told them ''a full-time team wasn't necessary and would be a waste,'' Lieut. Stephen Mc Alpine, who was Mayor of Valdez at the time, said in an interview.

The successful drilling operation is unlikely to usher in a new era of low oil prices as it is still small compared with the reserves in the Middle East.

However, it comes at a time when US politicians are increasingly worried about the country's dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Lapsed Maintenance Besides disbanding the team, the oil consortium allowed maintenance to lapse on equipment critical to dealing with a spill.