By David Gaffen
Aug 17 (Reuters) - U.S. crude stocks fell sharply as the nation exported a record 5 million barrels of oil a day in the most recent week, with oil companies finding heavy demand from European nations looking to replace Russian crude.
Crude inventories USOILC=ECI fell by 7.1 million barrels in the week to Aug. 12 to 425 million barrels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said, far more than expectations for a 275,000-barrel drop.
U.S. crude exports reached 5 million barrels a day, causing net imports USOICI=ECI to fall by 2.93 million bpd to just 1.2 million bpd, as U.S. oil facilities continue to boost expansion efforts, and as the discount on U.S. crude to the international Brent benchmark drove buying interest.
"It is at a record level, driven by high demand from Europe looking for alternative to Russian barrels," said Giovanni Staunovo, analyst at UBS.
"The deeper discount of WTI is supporting the exports, something which is likely to continue. So we should get high U.S. crude exports also over the coming weeks."
Two shipments of crude from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico have sailed for Germany in recent days, as European refiners test potential replacements for Russian oil.
For the week, the United States also exported 5.7 million bpd in refined products.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub USOICC=ECI rose by 192,000 barrels in the last week, EIA said.
Refinery crude runs USOICR=ECI fell by 158,000 barrels per day in the last week, EIA said, lowering refinery utilization rates USOIRU=ECI by 0.8 percentage points to 93.5%.
U.S. gasoline stocks USOILG=ECI fell by 4.6 million barrels in the week. Distillate stockpiles USOILD=ECI, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 766,000 barrels. Overall product supplied rose in the most recent week, putting the four-week average for gasoline demand at 9 million bpd, or about 4% below the pace from a year ago.
"Gasoline supplied had been on shaky ground for several weeks but the last couple weeks brings us closer to the 5-year seasonal average," said Tony Headrick, energy market analyst at CHS Hedging.
Oil prices rose on the news. Brent crude LCOc1 gained 1.4% to $93.68 a barrel as of 10:51 a.m. EST (1551 GMT) while U.S. CLc1 futures rose 1.8% to $88.06 a barrel.
(Reporting By David Gaffen; additional reporting by Laura Sanicola; editing by David Evans)
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