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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. crude inventories fell last week for the second straight time as imports remained low while gasoline supplies dropped much more than expected, the Energy Information Administration said in weekly data released Wednesday.
U.S. crude futures rose $2 to more than $62 a barrel after the EIA issued its weekly oil data. The gasoline supply draw in the world's top energy consumer comes as millions of Americans gear up to take to the road for the May 23-25 Memorial Day holiday weekend, seen as the start of the summer driving season.
"The EIA numbers confirmed directionally what has been felt in the cash market, which had been tightening of late in many geographic regions," said Tom Knight, a trader with Truman Arnold in Texarkana, Texas.
Commercial crude inventories in the United States fell 2.1 million barrels to 368.5 million barrels in the week ended May 15, EIA said, compared with a modest 200,000-barrel decline forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.
U.S. crude imports rose 83,000 barrels per day to 8.79 million bpd last week, but they remained below the four-week average of 9.3 million bpd, according to the EIA.
Gasoline supplies registered a much bigger-than-forecast drop of 4.3 million barrels to 204 million barrels versus a forecast 1.2-million-barrel fall, EIA's data showed.
"The numbers are bullish for gasoline and moderately bullish for crude. Supplies are tightening up ahead of driving season," said Addison Armstrong at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
"The real wild card is will there even be a driving season this summer?"
U.S. gasoline demand during the past four weeks was 9.05 million bpd, down 1.2 percent from a year ago, EIA said.
But demand for gasoline is up on the week last week and that could help push prices further, noted Mark Waggoner, president of Excel Futures, in Huntington Beach, California.
"However, beware that after the Memorial Day holiday, the oil markets could see a sell-off," Waggoner added.
U.S. refinery utilization unexpectedly fell 1.9 percentage points to 81.8 percent of capacity. Analysts had forecast an 0.3 percentage point rise.
National distillates stocks added 600,000 barrels to 148.1 million barrels, shy of analysts' forecasts for a 1.0-million-barrel increase.
The EIA data confirmed the American Petroleum Institute's weekly report on Tuesday afternoon, which showed that U.S. crude and gasoline stock fell more sharply than expected last week. API said petroleum inventories dropped by 4.5 million barrels while gasoline lost a steep 5.4 million barrels and distillate stocks rose by 1.4 million barrels.