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U.S. crude oil stockpiles rose while gasoline and distillate inventories fell last week as refiners ran at below seasonal lows due to planned and unplanned outages, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude inventories rose for the fifth consecutive week, increasing by 4.2 million barrels to 447.2 million barrels in the week ending Feb. 23, the EIA said, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.7 million-barrel rise.

Stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures rose by 1.5 million barrels last week to 31 million barrels, the EIA said.

Brent oil and West Texas Intermediate crude futures were little changed after the data was released.

Unplanned refinery outages following a winter storm in January, along with planned plant turnarounds, has kept refining running below the 10-year seasonal average. Refineries have operated below 83 per cent utilization rates for the past month, their longest streak in nearly three years.

Last week, refinery crude runs edged up by 100,000 barrels per day, and refinery utilization rates rose by 0.9 percentage point to 81.5 per cent of total capacity.

“The refining activity was definitely showing that we are still running at historically low levels,” said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group.

Gasoline stocks fell for a fourth consecutive week, decreasing by 2.8 million barrels to 244.2 million barrels, nearly double forecasts for a 1.5 million-barrel draw.

Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, were down by 510,000 barrels to 121.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 2.1 million-barrel drop, the data showed.

An outage starting at the beginning of February at the 435,000-bpd Whiting facility in Indiana, the Midwest’s largest refinery, has contributed to the product draws and crude builds.

“If this trend continues for the next six to eight weeks, we could see gasoline inventories tighten up as we go into the driving season,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Inventories of gasoline were about 2 per cent below the five-year average for this time of year, while distillates were about 8 per cent below the five-year average for this time of year, the EIA said.

Meanwhile, the four-week average of petroleum product supplied, a proxy for demand, fell to the lowest since January 2023, EIA data showed.

Net U.S. crude imports fell by 32,000 bpd, the EIA said.

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