Total petroleum deliveries (a measure of demand) slipped 1.3% in March compared with March 2011, though gasoline deliveries were up 3%, according to monthly data from the American Petroleum Institute (API) trade group.
This marked the second month in a row gasoline demand increased while total petroleum demand declined, the API said.
March distillate demand was up very slightly over a year ago to almost 4 million bpd, driven by a 5.5% rise in demand for ultra-low sulfur diesel used by trucks.
The mixed demand picture shows the economy is still laboring to move forward, reflecting relatively weak employment conditions, said API chief economist John Felmy.
However, the rise in gasoline demand occurred in spite of higher gasoline prices, which actually pushed down demand for reformulated gasoline used in urban areas and encouraged more use of public transit, he added.
Supplies of refined products remained ample, with US gasoline production of 9.3 million bpd setting a record for any March and for any comparable year-to-date period, the API said. Distillate fuel production at 4.4 million bpd also set March and year-to-date records.
Refinery utilization increased in March, compared with March a year ago. Total refinery inputs rose 2.3% in March.
With US refinery production at high levels and overall domestic demand falling, exports of refined petroleum products increased by 2.6%, according to the API.
Imports of crude oil and refined products fell in March by 6.6% to average 10.6 million bpd. Canadian crude imports rose by 1.9% to average almost 2.16 million bpd.
Higher domestic crude oil production in March offset lower crude import levels. Crude oil production rose by 4.7% to average almost 5.9 million bpd.
Rising North Dakota production at 551,000 bpd in March continued to close in on declining Alaska production of 591,000 bpd, the API said.
The number of oil and gas rigs fell from 1,990 in February to 1,979 in March, according to the latest reports from Baker-Hughes Inc.
In March, crude oil stocks at 361.2 million barrels were down 0.4% from March 2011 and up 4.5% from February of this year.
Gasoline stocks were up from March 2011 but down slightly from February 2012.