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By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. crude oil stocks rose unexpectedly last week after a fire disrupted movements on the Houston Ship Channel and slowed exports, while gasoline and distillate inventories fell more than forecast, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories rose by 2.8 million barrels in the week to March 22, compared with analysts’ expectations for a decrease of 1.2 million barrels.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose 541,000 barrels, the EIA said.
Net U.S. crude imports rose last week by 114,000 barrels per day as exports alone fell 506,000 bpd.
“The report was bearish relative to expectations, as crude inventories rose, due, in part, to a steep drop in exports week-on-week,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.
The draw on refined products inventories did not completely offset the bearish crude data, he said.
U.S. crude futures extended losses after the data was released, and Brent crude briefly turned negative. U.S. crude was down 11 cents at $59.83 a barrel by 11:01 a.m. EDT (1501 GMT), while Brent up 8 cents at $68.04 a barrel.
A storage tank fire on March 18 at Intercontinental Terminals Co Deer Park facility on the Houston Ship Channel led to restrictions on shipping at the busiest U.S. energy port.
“The tank fire caused a lot of problems in the ship channel with benzene and other chemicals slipping into the water and the Coast Guard shut down ship movement for a couple of days,” said Donald Morton, who runs an energy trading desk at investment banking firm H.J. Sims & Co. “It was a very short-term situation that will get better quickly and already has started getting better,” he said.
Refinery crude runs fell by 367,000 bpd, the EIA data showed. Refinery utilization rates fell by 2.3 percentage points.
Gasoline stocks fell by 2.9 million barrels, a slightly greater draw than analysts expected in a Reuters poll that called for a 2.8 million-barrel drop.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, fell by 2.1 million barrels, versus expectations for a 896,000-barrel drop, the EIA data showed.
Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault Editing by Marguerita Choy