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By David Gaffen
Oct 4 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks fell sharply last week as crude exports rose to a record high of nearly 2 million barrels per day, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell 6 million barrels in the week to Sept. 29, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 756,000 barrels. Inventories have dropped in the past two weeks as Gulf Coast refineries restart after weeks of shutdowns due to Hurricane Harvey.
Crude exports, meanwhile, jumped to 1.98 million bpd, surpassing the 1.5 million bpd record set the previous week. The jump in U.S. exports points to growing demand and the rising profile of the United States as a major supplier of crude and products around the world.
The increase has in part been driven by a recent widening between prices for U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude and Brent futures WTCLc1-LCOc1.
The North Sea benchmark last week hit its highest premium over WTI in two years, making U.S. crude increasingly competitive in foreign markets.
“A wide price premium of Brent over WTI crude has boosted appetite for U.S. oil globally, which was reflected in the rise in exports,” said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy’s Global Gas Analytics in London.
The benchmarks turned positive immediately after the data. By 11:03 a.m. EDT (1503 GMT), WTI up four cents at $50.49 while Brent was unchanged at $56 a barrel.
The spread between the December contracts on both benchmarks narrowed to $5.20 from $5.31 before the data.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for WTI futures rose by 1.5 million barrels, EIA said.
U.S. crude imports fell last week by 706,000 bpd.
Refinery crude runs fell by 145,000 bpd and refinery utilization rates fell by 0.5 percentage point to 88.1 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 2.6 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.8 million-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Gasoline stocks rose 1.6 million barrels, compared with analyst expectations in a Reuters poll for a 1.1 million-barrel gain. (Reporting By David Gaffen; additional reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy)