MTECHTIPS- In a knee-jerk reaction, West Texas Intermediate oil futures passed briefly into negative territory in North American trade on Thursday, after data showed that oil supplies in the U.S. registered an unexpected inventory build. In the minutes following the release, crude managed to crawl back to slight gains in choppy trade. However, U.S. crude eventually headed south while Brent pared gains to trade near the unchanged mark Crude oil for February delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 25 cents, or 0.46%, to trade at $53.81 a barrel by 11:12 AM ET (16:12 GMT) compared to $54.11 ahead of the report. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that crude oil inventories rose by 0.614 million barrels in the week ended December 23. Market analysts’ had expected a crude-stock draw of 2.060 million barrels, while the American Petroleum Institute late Tuesday reported a surprise supply build of 4.2 million barrels. Supplies at Cushing, Oklahoma, the key delivery point for Nymex crude, rose by 0.172 million barrels last week, the EIA said. Total U.S. crude oil inventories stood at 486.1 million barrels as of last week, according to press release, which the EIA considered to be “near the upper limit of the average range for this time of year”. The report also showed that gasoline inventories decreased by 1.593 million barrels, compared to expectations for a build of 1.320 million barrels, while distillate stockpiles fell by 1.811 million barrels, compared to forecasts for a gain of 1.780 million. The data was released one day later than usual due to the holiday last Monday. Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil for March delivery edged forward 7 cents, or 0.04%, to $57.00 by 11:13 AM ET (16:13 GMT), compared to $57.24 before the release.