* Brent premium to U.S. crude widens, trade volumes heavy
* Not immediately clear when full Seaway rates will be
* U.S. crude, distillate stocks rise, gasoline falls - API
* Coming up: EIA oil data 11 a.m. EST Thursday
(Updates with API data paragraphs 11-15)
NEW YORK, Jan 23 U.S. crude futures dropped 1.5
percent o n W ednesday in heavy trading after a key oil pipeline
reduced the volume flowing through it, raising concerns
inventories at the Midwest delivery point for the contract might
As prices for international Brent crude held in positive
territory following supportive economic data, U.S. crude plunged
in afternoon trade after shippers received notification that the
newly expanded 400,000 barrel per day (bpd) Seaway pipeline had
cut rates to 175,000 bpd. It was not immediately clear when full
rates would be restored.
The line, which was restarted earlier this month after the
expansion was completed, ships crude from the Cushing, Oklahoma
delivery point for the New York Mercantile Exchange's oil
contract to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The reduced throughput was
expected to increase inventories at the hub, which had already
hit record levels earlier in the month.
Brent's premium to U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude
widened to near $17.50 a barrel - the highest level since Jan.
15 - following the news. The spread had dipped below $15 a
barrel last week following Seaway's start-up.
"Stocks at Cushing are already at record levels and traders
were betting that this line would help them draw, and narrow,
the Brent-WTI spread," said Andy Lebow, vice president at
Jefferies Bache in New York.
"This could be very bearish WTI," he added.
Front-month U.S. crude oil futures settled down $1.45
to $95.23 a barrel, snapping four straight sessions of gains
which had pushed the contract above a reading of 70 on the
14-day relative strength index, a level typically seen as an
indication a commodity has been overbought.
Trading volumes were strong, with U.S. crude trade at nearly
double the levels seen over the previous 30 days. Brent crude
volumes were up 60 percent over that level.
Brent crude oil prices traded up 38 cents to settle
at $112.80 a barrel.
Brent found early support from data showing British
unemployment fell for the 10th consecutive quarter at the end of
last year and that jobless claims hit their lowest level since
mid-2011 in December.
U.S. OIL INVENTORIES
U.S. crude stocks rose 3.2 million barrels last week, the
American Petroleum Institute (API) said in a report on
Crude stocks at Cushing fell 463,000 barrels, according to
Gasoline stocks fell 1.6 million barrels and distillate
stocks rose 1.3 million barrels, the API said.
U.S. crude stocks had been expected to be up 1.8 million
barrels, according to a Reuters survey of analysts ahead of
weekly inventory reports.
Distillate stocks were expected to be up 400,000 barrels and
gasoline stocks up 1.5 million barrels.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration's inventory
report follows at 11 a.m. EST on Thursday, delayed one day by
the U.S. holiday on Monday.
(Reporting by Matthew Robinson, Robert Gibbons and Gabriel
Debenedetti in New York, Ron Bousso and Simon Falush in London
and Florence Tan and Seng Li Peng in Singapore; editing by Peter
Galloway, Gunna Dickson, Gary Crosse and Alden Bentley)