* Oil production sliding but at slower rate than in 2009
* Oil exports falling, gasoline imports rising
* Feb crude output 70,000 bpd above planned level (Adds detail on output decline, graphic link, byline)
MEXICO CITY, March 25 Mexican oil production fell in February but at a far slower rate than in early 2009, suggesting state oil monopoly Pemex is successfully controlling the decline.
Crude output was 5,000 barrels per day lower than in January at 2.61 million bpd and 2 percent below the year-ago level in February, Pemex [PEMX.UL] reported on Thursday.
Production slumped 9 percent in February 2009.
Sliding oil production has put pressure on Mexico's public finances, which depend heavily on export revenues to fund its federal budget. Pemex has struggled since 2004 to contain the rate of decline at its giant Cantarell field, which once pumped nearly two-thirds of Mexican oil output.
Declining oil output was one of the main factors behind the decision of two bond rating agencies to downgrade Mexico's sovereign debt last year. <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
For a graphic on Mexican oil output click on: link.reuters.com/paq35j <^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Mexican officials said late last year Pemex had stabilized its output problems at Cantarell. While analysts are skeptical Pemex has solved the problem, the company is producing more oil than its 2010 operating plan assumes.
The plan called for output of 2.54 million bpd in February and an average of just over 2.5 million bpd for the year.
Mexico is among the top four exporters of crude oil to the United States. The slump in output, along with a growing reliance on imported gasoline and other refined products, threatens to turn the country into a net oil importer.
Mexican crude exports averaged 1.198 million bpd in February compared with 1.238 million bpd in January and 1.257 million bpd in February 2009.
Gasoline imports, historically volatile, rose to 329,200 bpd from 258,000 bpd a month earlier.
Pemex is unlikely to quickly raise oil production and cut gasoline imports due to a legacy of underinvestment.
The country is building a new oil refinery but it is unlikely to begin operations until at least 2015 and Pemex has yet to turn up any major discoveries in its offshore oil exploration campaign that would allow it to offset all of the anticipated declines at Cantarell and other fields.
Total liquids production, which includes crude oil as well as condensates and natural gas liquids, was 2.988 million bpd in February, down 5,000 bpd from January, Pemex said. (Reporting by Robert Campbell; Editing by David Gregorio)