(Adds detail on distillate, analyst comment, futures prices)
NEW YORK, Dec 17 (Reuters) - U.S. crude stocks fell less than expected last week, while gasoline stocks increased and distillate inventories declined, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell by 847,000 barrels in the last week, compared with analysts' expectations for a 2.4- million-barrel draw.
While the crude oil inventory drop was less than consensus expectations, the EIA's report contrasted sharply with the 1.9-million-barrel rise reported on Tuesday by industry group American Petroleum Institute.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 2.92 million barrels, EIA said.
U.S. crude imports fell last week by 564,000 barrels per day, the EIA data showed.
Refinery crude runs fell by 326,000 barrels per day, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 1.9 percentage points.
U.S. and Brent crude futures initially extended losses before rallying back to turn positive, receiving a lift from strong U.S. heating oil futures.
U.S. front-month January crude was up 30 cents, or 0.54 percent, at $55.23 a barrel at 11:17 a.m. EST (1617 GMT).
U.S. January heating oil, the benchmark distillate contract, was up 3 cents, or 1.5 percent, at $1.99 a gallon.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 207,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 340,000-barrel increase, the EIA data showed.
The drop in U.S. distillate stocks resulted from a sharp drawdown in inventories in the East Coast, where they fell 1.35 million barrels.
The East Coast PADD 1 (Petroleum Administration for Defense District) region, contains the New York Harbor, delivery point for the heating oil contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).
Gasoline stocks rose by 5.3 million barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.8-million-barrel increase.
"The report is bearish with the large builds in gasoline and Cushing oil inventories," said John Kilduff, partner at Again Capital LLC in New York.
"The decline in overall crude oil inventories was smallish, as was the decline in the distillate category, which remains the only supportive feature of the complex." (Reporting by Robert Gibbons; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)