US crude oil inventories fell last week as refining activity picked up ahead of the busy summer season as the United States continues to release barrels from its strategic reserve.
Crude oil inventories fell 3.4 million barrels to 420.8 million barrels in the week to May 13, the EIA said, compared with analysts who had forecast an increase of 1.4 million barrels in a Reuters poll.
The decline came as the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) fell 5 million barrels to 538 million barrels, its lowest level since November 1987.
Refining activity picked up last week in response to tight product inventories and near-record exports that have forced diesel and gasoline prices in the United States to record levels.
“Despite the release of 5 million barrels from the SPR, higher production and stronger imports, stronger refining activity and crude exports have lifted inventories,” said Matt Smith, chief oil analyst for Americas at Kpler.
Crude refinery production increased by 239,000 barrels per day last week, increasing the overall refinery utilization rate by 1.8 percentage points to 91.8%. Capacity utilization on both the East and Gulf Coasts is above 95%, bringing these facilities close to their highest possible operating speed.
Refineries are struggling to increase product inventories in the United States as sanctions against Russia have reduced inventories worldwide and put buyers worldwide in a race for diesel, gasoline and other products.
US gasoline inventories fell 4.8 million barrels to 220.2 million barrels in a seventh consecutive weekly decline.
Stocks of distillates, including diesel and heating oil, rose 1.2 million barrels in the week, the EIA said.
Net crude oil imports into the US fell 342,000 bpd last week, while crude oil production rose 100,000 bpd to 11.9 million bpd.
Crude inventories at the Cushing, Oklahoma delivery hub fell 2.4 million barrels in the week, the EIA said.
Oil prices fell as a result of the data. Brent oil fell $1.46 a barrel, or 1.3%, to $110.56 a barrel at 10:51 a.m. EDT (1451 GMT), while U.S. crude fell $1.40, or 1.3%, to $111 .09 per barrel.
(Reporting by David Gaffen; additional reporting by Arathy Somasekhar Editing by Marguerita Choy)
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