Marathon Petroleum will temporarily halt production at its Martinez refinery on April 29 while waiting for demand to catch up with an over abundance of supply amid reduced travel and a slumping global economy. (Photo courtesy of Marathon Petroleum)

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The Marathon Petroleum Co. plans to temporarily idle its refinery in unincorporated Contra Costa County, because of plummeting demand for gasoline amid travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, a refinery spokeswoman said.

Work to wind down production at the Marathon Martinez Refinery began Sunday, said refinery spokeswoman Patty Deutsche, and will be complete by April 27. It isn’t known how long production will be idled, she said.

“It all depends on the pandemic, and when people start driving again,” Deutsche said.

The refinery, which employs approximately 740 people, can process 161,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The refinery produces gasoline, diesel fuel, distillates, petroleum coke, propane, heavy fuel oil and refinery-grade propylene. The refinery does not produce jet airplane fuel, Deutsche said.

Gasoline demand, she said, has plummeted by 60 percent since the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order — which called for residents to curtail all but “essential” travel — was issued March 16. Diesel fuel demand has been down 30 percent during that time, Deutsche said.

All refinery employees will be kept on, Deutsche said, doing maintenance work, keeping vital internal systems operating and undergoing training.

Contract workers, however, will lose their work at the refinery.

In pre-COVID-19 days, anywhere from 800 to 1,000 contractors could be working at the refinery on a given day, Deutsche said; that number has since fallen to about 200, she said, and will fall to almost zero by April 27.

It will take between seven and 14 days to get the refinery back to full production once the economy rebounds, she said.

The refinery opened in 1913, and was called the Avon Refinery, named for the unincorporated Contra Costa County area north of Concord and east of Martinez. Since then, operators have included Phillips, Tosco, Ultramar Golden Eagle and Tesoro. Marathon bought the refinery in 2018.

Marathon is the first East Bay refinery to take this step. Other area refineries are the former Shell (now PBF Energy Inc.) refinery in Martinez, the Valero refinery in Benicia, the Phillips refinery in Rodeo and the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

Marathon closed a much smaller refinery in Gallup, New Mexico, last week.

Deutsche said Marathon’s gasoline needs can be met for the time being by company refineries in Carson, near Los Angeles, and Anacortes, Washington.