(Adds details, CEO comment, background)
By Jarrett Renshaw
NEW YORK, July 26 (Reuters) - Marathon Petroleum Corp plans to "maximize" input of U.S. crude in the third quarter, taking advantage of bottlenecks in key shale plays that have weakened domestic prices.
The company said on a Thursday earnings call that about 32 percent of its total throughput of 1.95 million barrels per day will be crude linked to the U.S. benchmark price, up from 23 percent during the same stretch last year.
Input of U.S. crude at the company's Midwest refineries is expected to jump to 53 percent of total throughput in the third quarter, up from 38 percent last year.
U.S. and Canadian producers have been forced to sell crude at a discount versus global prices as production has outpaced pipeline capacity.
The wide differentials helped Marathon and other refiners report strong second-quarter earnings.
Marathon reported $2.24 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), the highest quarterly number since the company went public in 2011, according to Chief Executive Gary Heminger.
The U.S. refining outlook will remain strong in the upcoming quarters as North American crudes will remain discounted and planned turnarounds at U.S. refineries will help keep gasoline inventories from climbing and distillate inventories low, Heminger said.
"I think inventories are going to remain for both gasoline and distillate, inventories are going to remain in check through the year, which bodes very well for the business. But as we look into 2019 and where we believe inventories will end up at the balance of this year, it should put us in a really good position moving into '19 as well," Heminger said.
Gasoline inventories are just below the five-year high, while distillates sit below five-year highs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Marathon reported that store gasoline sales declined by 1.8 percent in the second quarter, but Heminger said that was because crude prices drove up prices at the gasoline pump.
"I am not alarmed at all," he said. (Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)