* Sees 2014 oil demand rising 4 pct to 10.36 mln bpd on new refinery start ups
* Net crude imports seen climbing 7.1 pct to 5.96 mln bpd
* CNPC's demand forecast more bullish than IEA's (Writes through, adding IEA forecast)
BEIJING, Jan 15 (Reuters) - China's implied oil demand will grow quicker this year at around 4 percent as new refineries start up, the country's top oil firm forecast, after slowing economic growth likely led to its weakest rise in five years in 2013.
China, the world's second-largest oil user and a key factor in global prices , has driven oil demand growth for most of the past decade and its slowing consumption has helped rein in prices despite a plunge in exports from OPEC member Iran due to sanctions and prolonged outages in Libya.
The forecast by China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) saw the nation's oil demand rising to 10.36 million barrels per day (bpd), which would translate into an incremental demand of nearly 400,000 bpd in 2014.
The forecast, in an annual report released by CNPC's research institute on Wednesday, also saw the country's net crude imports growth accelerating 7.1 percent to 298 million tonnes, or 5.96 million bpd this year.
CNPC's demand forecast is more bullish than the International Energy Agency's (IEA), which in December predicted Chinese oil demand growing 382,000 bpd this year, or 3.7 percent from 2013. It wasn't immediately clear how CNPC tallies the oil consumption figures.
The forecast growth in net crude imports would translate into an incremental imports of 370,000 bpd versus the 2013 level reported by Chinese customs.
That means China's dependence on foreign crude would rise to 58 percent this year, based on CNPC's forecast on refinery throughput at 509 million tonnes (10.2 million bpd).
"Domestic refining capacity will grow rapidly, driving crude oil demand...while domestic crude oil production would only rise 2.2 percent," the report said.
Reuters calculates implied oil demand by adding refinery throughput with net imports of refined fuel, but excludes changes in inventory. China rarely publishes oil inventory data, making it hard to gauge real demand.
Decades of breakneck economic growth pushed China ahead of the United States as the world's top net oil importer in September, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has said, a position China is set to keep through 2014.
Refinery throughput is likely to climb 5.1 percent from last year, CNPC said. China is due to release its official 2013 national refinery output data next week.
Two greenfield refineries, each owned by PetroChina and Sinochem Corp with combined capacity of 440,000 bpd, are slated to open in the first quarter, following repeated delays, providing most of the additional demand for crude imports this year.
CNPC also pointed out that China did not add any new capacity to the strategic petroleum reserves (SPR) over 2013 with total SPR space remaining at 141 million barrels, another factor behind a slower growth in crude imports last year.
Implied natural gas consumption will grow 11 percent from a year earlier to 186 billion cubic metres this year, the CNPC institute said, with imports to expand 18.9 percent to 63 bcm.
China, the world's top energy guzzler, is boosting use of the cleaner fuel faster than oil, both by quickening domestic exploration and raising imports.
For the first 11 months of 2013, China's implied oil demand rose 2.3 percent to 9.76 million barrels per day, down from 4.5 percent growth last year and the lowest growth rate since at least 2009, based on Reuters calculations from government data. December data is expected on Jan. 20. (tonne=7.3 barrels for crude conversion) (Reporting by Judy Hua and Chen Aizhu; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)
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