U.S. oil output last week held strong by pandemic standards, but demand for petroleum products surged during the period and inventories declined, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Wednesday.

Production for the week ended Dec. 10 was flat at a 2021 high of 11.7 million b/d. It had climbed by 100,000 b/d each of the two previous weeks. Output last week averaged 700,000 b/d higher than year-earlier levels, though it was still 1.4 million b/d below the early 2020 pinnacle, prior to the pandemic.

At the same time, imports fell. Oil imports averaged 6.5 million b/d last week, down 28,000 b/d from the prior period.

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Demand, meanwhile, jumped higher during the Dec. 10 period, rising 17% week/week and 20% year/year to an average of 23.2 million b/d. EIA reported in its latest Weekly Petroleum Status Report (WSPR) robust gains in demand for gasoline, jet fuel and distillate oils.

The overall demand figure represented a record level in EIA data that dates to 1990, analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC said in a note to clients Wednesday.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus sparked concerns about surging cases and new travel restrictions that could dampen oil consumption. But recent public health data from South Africa – where Omicron first spread widely before arriving in the United States – indicated that, while highly contagious, illness caused by the new variant is less severe than its predecessors. The latest EIA data suggest Americans are carrying on with their daily routines against the Omicron backdrop, driving demand for fuels derived from oil.

Raymond James Inc. analyst John Freeman called the EIA report “bullish” on the demand front. But he did note that Omicron has been reported in 77 countries since November “and continues to spread rapidly throughout the U.S. and the world,” presenting a wildcard for future WSPR results.

Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) downgraded its global demand outlook because of Omicron. It emphasized, however, an expectation the variant’s impact would prove short lived.

IEA forecast global crude demand would grow by 5.4 million b/d this year, a downward revision of 100,000 b/d from the agency’s November report. But the global energy watchdog also noted that widespread inoculation efforts were expected to minimize Omicron’s long-term impacts. It said crude oil consumption would grow another 3.3 million b/d next year, reaching pre-pandemic levels of 99.5 million b/d.

“New containment measures put in place to halt the spread of the virus are likely to have a more muted impact on the economy versus previous Covid waves, not least because of widespread vaccination campaigns,” IEA researchers said.

Total U.S. petroleum consumption over the last four-week period averaged 21.3 million b/d, up 13% from the same period last year. Gasoline demand averaged 9.1 million b/d, ahead 15%, while distillate fuel consumption averaged 4.3 million b/d, up 11%. Jet fuel demand climbed 27% to 1.5 million b/d.

The strong demand led to storage withdrawals. U.S. commercial crude inventories for the Dec. 10 period, excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, decreased by 4.6 million bbl week/week. At 428.3 million bbl, stockpiles are about 7% below the five-year average.