U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell last week as exports hit a record high and refinery ramped up output, while gasoline inventories dropped more than expected ahead of the summer driving season, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said May 16.

Crude inventories fell 1.4 million barrels (bbl) in the week to May 11, compared with analysts' expectations for a decrease of 763,000 bbl.

Net U.S. crude imports fell 411,000 bbl/d as exports rose to a record 2.6 million bbl/d, benefiting of late from the widening spread between U.S. crude oil and global benchmark Brent, which responds more to world supply outlook.

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Crude production continued to grow to record highs, rising 20,000 bbl/d to 10.72 million bbl/d last week, the EIA said, though weekly figures are considered less reliable than monthly data. The U.S. in February produced 10.3 million bbl/d, a record.

Refining activity rose, particularly in the Midwest, as maintenance season ebbs as summer driving season heats up.

Refinery crude runs rose by 149,000 bbl/d, while refinery utilization rates rose by 0.7 percentage points to 91.1% of overall capacity. U.S. Midwest refinery utilization rates increased last week to 96% of capacity, the highest since at least 2010 seasonally.

Still, gasoline stocks were down sharply, falling by a surprise 3.8 million bbl, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.4 million-bbl drop.

Gasoline demand is up 0.7% from last year over the past four weeks to 9.4 million bbl/d. That demand is anticipated to increase as summer driving season kicks in.

"It's a bullish report. The gasoline number was pretty good... which you would expect coming up to Memorial Day and summer driving season," said Bob Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said May 16 that oil inventories worldwide had tightened after a year-and-a-half of supply cuts by major oil producers, along with Venezuela's ongoing economic crisis that has sapped its production. As oil approaches $80/bbl, demand may suffer, the IEA said.

Prices were little changed after the data. U.S. crude fell 15 cents to $71.16/bbl as of 9:45 a.m. CDT (14:45 GMT), while Brent lost 20 cents to $78.22/bbl.

Crude stocks at the Cushing, Okla., delivery hub for U.S. crude futures rose by 53,000 bbl, the EIA said.

Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 92,000 bbl, vs. expectations for a 2.2 million-bbl drop, the EIA data showed.