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EIA : U.S. Oil Use Fell 3.8% to Four-Year Low in September

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11/30/2012 | 02:56pm CEST

(This article was originally published Thursday.)

--At 18.173 million b/d, demand off 719,000 b/d vs year-earlier

--Gasoline demand drops 1.9% vs year-earlier; four-year low for September

--Demand for all major fuels down; diesel use drops 4.2% year-on-year

(Adds data on third-quarter and year-to-date demand, and analysis)

   By David Bird 

NEW YORK--U.S. oil demand fell 3.8%, or 719,000 barrels a day, from a year earlier to a four-year low of 18.173 million barrels a day in September, according to government data released Thursday.

The year-on-year drop was the largest since May and the 10th straight decline from 2011 monthly levels. Demand dropped 5.5%, or more than 1 million barrels a day, from August levels, with all major fuels recording declines, data from the Energy Information Administration show.

Demand for gasoline, the most widely used petroleum product in the world's biggest oil consumer, fell by 1.9%, or 169,000 barrels a day, to average 8.575 million barrels a day. That was the weakest level in any month since January, and the lowest in September since 2008, when several hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, curbing gasoline demand.

The sharp drop in oil demand showed in EIA's latest numbers represents a 1.2% downward revision to earlier estimates based on preliminary weekly demand figures for the month.

Combined with previously published EIA monthly demand data, the September data suggests that U.S. oil demand in the third quarter of 2012 averaged 18.667 million barrels a day, down 1.9% from a year-earlier, and at the lowest third-quarter level in 16 years. In the 2011 third quarter, demand fell 2.3% from the year-earlier period.

For the first nine months of 2012, EIA data show demand averaged 18.578 million barrels a day, down 2% from a year earlier. Latest EIA weekly data show year-to-date demand through Nov.23 averaging 18.67 million barrels a day and lagging the year-earlier period by 2%.

The drop in gasoline demand came as the national retail price of regular fuel averaged $3.849 a gallon, a record for September and the highest average in any month since April. Retail gasoline was up 6.6% from a year earlier.

The EIA noted in its monthly short-term energy outlook earlier this month that gasoline demand has been held down by "continued slow growth in the driving?age population, improvements in the average fuel economy of new vehicles, and increased rates of retirement of older, less?fuel?efficient vehicles."

The September gasoline demand figure, combined with earlier EIA data, suggest third-quarter gasoline use slipped 0.6% from a year earlier to 8.843 million barrels a day, a 12-year low for the period.

Demand in the peak April-September driving season was essentialy flat at the 2011 third-quarter level of 8.895 million barrels a day. That was down 3.4% from the third-quarter 2010 and the lowest for the period since 2001.

Demand for distillate fuel (diesel/heating oil) in the month fell 6.5% from a year earlier, to 3.681 million barrels a day. That was the lowest demand for the month since 2009 and the weakest level in any month since July.

Within the distillate figure, demand for ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, used in trucks and trains, averaged 3.448 million barrels a day, down 4.2% from a year earlier, and a two-year low for September.

Retail diesel fuel prices averaged $4.120 a gallon in the month, a record for September and the highest since March. Prices were up 7.4% from a year earlier.

Jet fuel use in September fell 2.6% from a year earlier, to 1.379 million barrels a day, the lowest level since April and the weakest in September since 1993.

The phase-out use of heavy residual fuel continued, with demand dropped to its lowest-ever monthly level on EIA records beginning in 1938. Demand averaged just 302,000 barrels a day, down 38.5% from a year earlier. Strong competition from cheaply priced natural gas and stricter environmental regulations are dramatically curbing the use of the fuel in power generation and industrial boilers.

Write to David Bird at david.bird@dowjones.com

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