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By David Gaffen
March 1 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks rose last week even as refineries boosted output, while inventories of gasoline and distillates fell, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories rose by 1.5 million barrels in the last week, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 3.1 million barrels.
Oil prices edged lower on the news, erasing gains to trade flat. U.S. crude production rose again to 9.03 million barrels per day (bpd) for the week to Feb. 24, according to the EIA. Overall crude stocks in the United States hit another record, rising to 520.2 million barrels.
"The EIA stats don't offer much in the way of surprises this week. The increase in refinery utilization signals that we have likely passed the peak of refinery maintenance for this season. Gasoline demand doesn't decline, but this is cold comfort for the gasoline bulls hoping for a rally," said David Thompson, executive vice-president at Powerhouse, an energy-specialized commodities broker in Washington.
Refinery crude runs rose by 393,000 bpd, EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates rose by 1.7 percentage points, a sharp increase even as refiners are in the midst of routine maintenance season.
U.S. crude imports rose last week by 793,000 bpd. Exports, meanwhile, fell sharply to 721,000 bpd, compared with 1.21 million the week prior; this number is considered a volatile one because of potential shipping delays and other factors.
Gasoline stocks fell by 546,000 barrels, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a drop of 1.8 million barrels. The price of reformulated blendstock gasoline was down 1.7 percent to $1.7005 a gallon, compared with $1.7173 prior to the report.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 925,000 barrels, versus expectations for a 611,000 barrels drop, the EIA data showed.
"We’ve still got this dichotomy in terms of demand where distillate demand is really strong year on year on a four-week moving average, whereas gasoline demand remains in check," said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at energy data provider ClipperData.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 495,000 barrels, EIA said. (Reporting By David Gaffen; Additional reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by W Simon)