UPDATE 2-China's May refinery output rises 8.2% to near peak rates

* May crude runs about 13.6 mln bpd, up 8.2 yr/yr

* Jan-May runs 12.55 mln bpd, down 1% yr/yr

* May crude oil output +1.3% yr/yr; gas up 12.7% (Adds crude oil, natural gas output)

SINGAPORE, June 15 (Reuters) - China’s crude oil throughput in May rose 8.2% from a year earlier as independent refiners increased their processing to meet the recovery in fuel demand following the easing of coronavirus lockdowns.

China processed 57.9 million tonnes of crude oil last month, equivalent to about 13.63 million barrels per day (bpd), data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released on Monday showed. That is the second-highest volume ever on a tonnes basis, down from 58.51 million in December.

That is compared with 13.1 million bpd in April and is the fourth-highest per barrel rate ever. The record is 13.78 million bpd also in December.

For the first five months, throughput totalled 261.39 million tonnes, or about 12.55 million bpd, 1% below year-ago levels because of large processing cuts in February and March.

China’s independent plants, making up roughly one-third of national refinery throughput, were running their plants at 76% in May, near the same rates as before the coronavirus outbreak began, according to data from China Sublime Information Group, to take advantage of high margins after the cost of imported crude oil fell.

“The strong growth in May throughput is bolstered by the normalisation of the Chinese economy and low oil prices,” said Seng Yick Tee, senior director at consultancy SIA Energy.

May processing rates were limited as PetroChina’s Dalian Petrochemical Corp and Sinopec Corp’s Tianjin Petrochemical Corp were undergoing overhauls. The two plants have a combined processing capacity of 660,000 bpd.

The NBS data also showed China’s crude oil output was 16.46 million tonnes in May, or 3.88 million bpd, up 1.3% from the same month a year earlier. Output for the January to May period was 80.9 million tonnes, 1.9% above the year-earlier period.

Natural gas output last month increased 12.7% from a year earlier to 15.9 billion cubic metres (bcm), and was 78.8 bcm for the first five months of 2020, but .

The growth in natural gas followed the increased focus by national producers PetroChina and Sinopec to prioritise developing the lower-carbon fuel despite deep cuts in capital expenditures.

(1 tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude conversion)

Reporting by Chen Aizhu; Editing by Tom Hogue and Christian Schmollinger