U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose less than expected last week due to a drop in imports, while gasoline and distillate inventories fell as refiners slowed down production, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Jan. 30.
Crude inventories rose 919,000 barrels in the week to Jan. 25, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 3.2 million barrels.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Okla., delivery hub for U.S. crude futures fell by 145,000 barrels, the EIA said.
"The report was supportive due to the much smaller-than-expected decline in crude oil inventories," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital Management.
Crude oil futures extended gains after the data was released, with U.S. crude up 95 cents a barrel at $54.26 by 9:51 a.m. CST (15:51 GMT).
Net U.S. crude imports fell last week by 1 million barrels per day (bbl/d).
"A precipitous drop in imports has helped stave off another big build to crude stocks," said Matthew Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData.
The decline in imports helped offset the impact of a substantial drop in refining activity, he said.
Refinery crude runs fell by 586,000 bbl/d, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 2.8 percentage points to 90.1% of total capacity, the slowest rate of production since early November.
After eight straight weeks of builds, gasoline stocks fell 2.2 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.9 million-barrel gain.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 1.1 million barrels, vs. expectations for a 1.4 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
U.S. crude production was steady at 11.9 million bbl/d.
Waha Hub spot prices tumble to -$3.38/MMBtu, setting a record for the spread to Henry Hub.
Pipeline companies are requiring produces to segregate West Texas Light oil from WTI.
Refiners insist they will continue to import from the U.S. assuming the price is competitive.