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By David Gaffen
Oct 5 (Reuters) - U.S. crude stockpiles fell last week for the fifth time in a row despite slowing refinery activity, although overall oil inventories remained at their highest in this century, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell 3.0 million barrels in the week to Sept. 30, the opposite of analysts’ expectations for an increase of 2.6 million barrels.
The five-week run of drawdowns has surprised some because it was kicked off with a 14 million-barrel drop - the largest plunge since 1999 - at the beginning of September as imports were disrupted by severe Gulf Coast weather.
U.S. crude imports fell marginally last week, slipping by 58,000 barrels per day.
Oil futures rose on the latest draw, with U.S. light crude up 2.3 percent to $49.82 a barrel. Brent crude was at $51.90 a barrel, up 2 percent.
“The inability of inventories to rebound given the steep drop in refining utilization over the past two weeks is especially bullish,” said John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital.
Total U.S. crude inventories, excluding the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, fell below 500 million barrels for the first time since January, to 499.7 million. However, over the last 16 years, the historic average has been around 328 million barrels, according to EIA data.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 569,000 barrels, EIA said.
Refinery crude runs fell 302,000 bpd and utilization rates fell by 1.8 percentage points, the fourth consecutive week of lower activity.
At an overall utilization rate of 88.3 percent, refining capacity utilization is about normal for this time of year - slightly higher than in 2015 but lower than in 2014.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 2.4 million barrels, versus expectations for a 700,000-barrel drop, the data showed.
Gasoline stocks rose 222,000 barrels, compared with analyst expectations in a Reuters poll for a 702,000-barrel gain.
Reporting By David Gaffen; Editing by Marguerita Choy