U.S. crude stocks fall sharply as imports drop

(Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks fell last week as refineries continued to run down inventories during a seasonally slower period, while distillate inventories fell and imports dropped, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude inventories fell 5.2 million barrels in the week to Oct. 14, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 2.7 million barrels.

Oil prices rose on the news, with U.S. crude hitting a high not seen since July of last year. West Texas Intermediate crude extended gains to $51.65 a barrel, up 2.7 percent, while Brent crude gained 2.2 percent to $52.79 a barrel.

“The report was bullish, due to the large drop in crude oil inventories, caused by a significant drop in imports that came in below 7 million barrels per day,” said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.

U.S. crude imports fell last week by 912,000 barrels per day. Overall, weekly imports of crude fell to 6.47 million bpd, the lowest since November 2015.

Kilduff noted that refining demand has been reduced, explaining some of the decline in imports.

Refinery crude runs fell by 182,000 bpd, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 0.5 percentage point, hitting a low not seen since April 2013.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub fell by their most since April, dropping by 1.6 million barrels, EIA said.

Analysts attributed this in part to an outage on Plains All American’s Basin pipeline last week. The company advised customers on Thursday that it had delayed a planned restart, which affected supply coming from Colorado City, Texas, into the Oklahoma hub.

Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 1.2 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.6 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.

Gasoline stocks rose by 2.5 million barrels, compared with expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.3 million-barrel drop.

Reporting By David Gaffen and Barani Krishnan; Editing by David Gregorio and Meredith Mazzilli