(Updates throughout with additional data and comments)
By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK, March 21 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell unexpectedly last week as imports dropped and refining rates jumped, while gasoline and distillate inventories also declined, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell 2.6 million barrels in the week to March 16, compared with analysts’ expectations for an increase of 2.6 million barrels.
Stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub for U.S. crude futures rose 905,000 barrels, EIA said.
U.S. crude futures extended gains after the report, and were up $1.26 a barrel at $64.80 by 10:58 a.m. EDT [1458 GMT). Brent crude increased $1.64 to $69.06 a barrel.
“The report was supportive of prices, as a large jump up in the refinery utilization rate and lowered crude oil imports combined to cause a net drawdown,” said John Kilduff, partner at energy hedge fund Again Capital LLC in New York.
The bullish report was somewhat tempered by U.S. crude production, which climbed to a fresh record of 10.4 million barrels per day in the week.
Net U.S. crude imports fell last week by 594,000 bpd.
Refinery crude runs rose 410,000 bpd and refinery utilization rates jumped 1.7 percentage points to 91.7 percent of total capacity, EIA data showed.
“Refinery runs continue to exude strength. They are nearly a million barrels per day higher than year-ago levels, led by Gulf Coast refining activity knocking on the door of 9 million barrels per day,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData in Louisville, Kentucky.
Gasoline stocks fell 1.7 million barrels, compared with analysts’ expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.0 million-barrel drop.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell 2.0 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.7 million barrels drop, the EIA data showed. (Reporting By Jessica Resnick-Ault Editing by Marguerita Choy)