May 15, 2019 / 1:31 AM / 5 days ago

CORRECTED-Oil prices ease on surprise rise in U.S. stockpiles, but Middle East tensions support

(Corrects price movements in paragraphs 2, 3)

SYDNEY, May 15 (Reuters) - Oil eased on Wednesday after closely watched data showed a surprise rise in U.S. crude stockpiles, but prices were supported by mounting tensions in the Middle East.

Brent crude futures were at $70.90 a barrel at 0100 GMT, down 34 cents, or 0.5%, from their last close. Brent closed up 1.4% on Tuesday.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $61.39 per barrel, down 39 cents, or 0.6%, from their previous settlement. WTI closed up 1.2% in the previous session.

U.S. crude stockpiles unexpectedly rose last week, while gasoline and distillate inventories increased, data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute showed on Tuesday.

Oil prices have drawn support after Saudi Arabia on Tuesday said armed drones struck two of its oil pumping stations, two days after the sabotage of oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates, while the U.S. military said it was braced for “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq” from Iran-backed forces.

The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington’s decision this month to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats.

Meanwhile, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Tuesday said that world demand for its oil would be higher than expected this year as supply growth from rivals including U.S. shale producers slows, pointing to a tighter market if the exporter group refrains from raising output. (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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