U.S. Crude Stockpile at Highest Level in 6 Years

U.S. crude oil supplies rose sharply last week as imports flooded the nation's ports, adding to the highest stockpile levels in nearly six years, the U.S. government said in a report released Wednesday. Oil prices fell to a three-month low near $47 a barrel.

U.S. crude settled down $1.72, or 3.3 percent, at $47.25 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search), after falling as low as $47.16, the lowest price since mid-February.

London's Brent crude was down $1.19 at $48.15 a barrel on the International Petroleum Exchange.

Commercial crude inventories rose 4.3 million barrels in the week ended May 13 to 334 million barrels, the highest since July 16, 1999, according to the Energy Information Administration's (search) weekly rerude oil, meanwhile, jumped nearly 900,000 barrels per day to 10.86 million bpd, the fourth highest weekly average on record, the EIA said.

"Although the origins of weekly crude oil imports are preliminary and thus not published, it appears that crude oil imports from Mexico were particularly plentiful last week," the EIA stated.

U.S. crude oil imports have been running strong in recent months as major producers, including OPEC (search) nations, crank up output to near-capacity.

"There's lots and lots of crude. There's no way around it," said Kyle Cooper, analyst at Citigroup Global Markets.

Gasoline inventories last week rose 1.1 million barrels to 214.8 million barrels as refinery activity increased 2.2 percent to 94 percent of capacity, the report showed.

Stockpiles of the key summer fuel are "just below the upper end of the average range," the EIA said.

Fuel producers cranked up gasoline production by 102,000 bpd last week to 8.97 million bpd as they built up inventories in anticipation of peak summer demand.

Implied consumption of gasoline, meanwhile, ran at about 9.2 million bpd over the past four week, reflecting a meager year-on-year increase of 0.9 percent, the EIA said.

"Gasoline is close to forecast, although demand remains a little soft," said Bill O'Grady, analyst at A.G. Edwards.

Demand growth last year was close to 3 percent.

Distillate stockpiles, including diesel and jet fuel, fell 200,000 barrels to 103.8 million barrels.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected crude oil inventories to rise last week by 800,000 barrels, with identical increases for gasoline and distillate supplies.

A separate report from the American Petroleum Istitute (search) on Wednesday showed crude stocks up 2.5 million barrels last week, with gasoline inventories down 317,000 barrels and distillates inventories down 1.8 million barrels.