(New throughout, adds details, comments, updates oil prices)
By David Gaffen
Dec 8 (Reuters) - U.S. crude stocks fell less than expected in the latest week while production rose and fuel inventories increased, the government reported on Wednesday.
Crude inventories fell by 240,000 barrels in the week to Dec. 3 to 432.9 million barrels, the Energy Information Administration said.
That was less than analysts expectations for a 1.7 million-barrel drop, according to a Reuters poll. The increase in inventories was driven by rising imports and another release from the U.S. strategic oil reserves, which fell by 1.5 million barrels in the most recent week.
In addition, production was higher, rising to 11.7 million barrels per day (bpd), the most for the United States since May of last year when the coronavirus pandemic was raging.
Refinery activity picked up, boosting overall stocks of fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel. Refinery crude runs rose by 154,000 barrels per day in the last week, EIA said. Refinery utilization rates rose by 1 percentage points in the week to 89.8% of overall capacity.
U.S. gasoline stocks rose by 3.9 million barrels in the week, compared with expectations for a 1.8 million-barrel rise.
Distillate stockpiles, which include diesel and heating oil, rose by 2.7 million barrels, versus expectations for a 1.6 million-barrel rise.
"These are decent product builds across the board which far outweighs the small decline in crude stocks," said Tony Headrick, energy market analyst at CHS Hedging.
Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, delivery hub rose by 2.4 million barrels in the last week, EIA said.
"It's the second largest build in Cushing this year. We had slid to a pretty low level a few weeks ago," said Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho. (Reporting By David Gaffen and Laura Sanicola; Editing by David Gregorio)