(Updates prices, adds comment)
By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK, July 12 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil inventories last week dropped the most in ten months, falling more than expected as imports declined and refining rates rose, while gasoline stocks decreased although demand remained lackluster, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell 7.6 million barrels in the week to July 7, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 2.9 million barrels.
The decline was the biggest since the week ended Sept. 4.
The largest crude draw was in the Gulf Coast region, where crude stockpiles fell 6.1 million barrels, the biggest weekly draw since May.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures fell by 1.9 million barrels to 57.6 million barrels, their lowest level since November 2015, EIA said.
U.S. inventories have been closely watched amid market concerns that U.S. output from shale formations could offset OPEC’s efforts to throttle back production and curb a global supply glut.
U.S. crude briefly rallied to a session high of $46.48 a barrel after the data was released before paring gains. U.S. crude was trading up 22 cents at $45.26 by 11:04 a.m. EST (1604 GMT). Global benchmark Brent crude traded up 5 cents a barrel at $47.57.
The report was initially bullish because of the large crude stockpile drawdown, however, analysts cautioned that the levels fell short of expectations set by trade group data from the American Petroleum Institute released on Tuesday that showed a hefty 8.1 million-barrel draw.
Also, at 495.4 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories were in the upper half of the average range for this time of year.
“The country’s gasoline demand remains lacklustre and gasoline stocks are still above the five-year average, which will cap gains in crude and gasoline prices,” said Abishek Kumar, Senior Energy Analyst at Interfax Energy’s Global Gas Analytics in London.
Gasoline stocks fell 1.6 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.1 million-barrel gain, but were in the upper half of the average range, the EIA said.
U.S. gasoline demand over past four weeks was also 0.3 percent lower from year ago.
Refinery crude runs rose by 103,000 barrels per day to 17.2 million bpd, nearing record high rates of 17.5 million bpd reached at the end of May, as utilization rates rose 0.9 percentage point to 94.5 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed.
U.S. crude imports fell last week by 282,000 bpd, while exports rose to 918,000 bpd from 768,000 bpd.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose 3.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.1 million-barrel increase, the EIA data showed.
Reporting By Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Marguerita Choy