PBF Energy’s refinery in Paulsboro has became the latest oil processing facility to fall victim to a COVID-driven collapse in fuel demand, announcing plans to idle operations for the foreseeable future.

The company plans to lay off 250 employees at the 160,000-barrel-a-day plant and halt fuel production as a result of low demand, according to a letter to employees seen by Bloomberg. Paulsboro will continue its lubricant and asphalt operations, the letter said.

"The move was prompted by unanticipated, extended demand destruction for transportation fuels related to COVID-19 policies," the letter from Chief Executive Officer Tom Nimbley said. PBF will provide more details during its third-quarter earnings call, said company spokesman Michael Karlovich

The nationwide decline in fuel demand resulting from pandemic-related lockdowns and less travel have already forced the announced shutdown or repurposing of at least six refineries since March. Gasoline demand plunged in the late spring and summer and remains stuck about 8% below the five-year average, according to government data.

"With limited levers left and significant East and West Coast exposure, PBF is one of the independent refiners most vulnerable in a prolonged recovery," Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Fernando Valle and Brett Gibbs said in a note.

The Paulsboro plant's fuel-making units will be taken out of service and preserved for a possible reopening in the future, according to the company's letter. If the refinery is reopened, it will produce partially refined feedstocks that will be sent to the company's Delaware City refinery, the letter showed.

The refinery is the first to be idled on the East Coast since the virus decimated fuel consumption. Philadelphia Energy Solutions, once the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, closed after a disastrous fire in June 2019 before the pandemic began. To date, all of the other idled refineries are in the western U.S.

Marathon Petroleum Corp., the largest U.S. refiner, will convert its 166,000 barrel-a-day Martinez, Calif., refinery into a terminal facility and may add a 48,000 barrel-a-day renewable diesel plant as soon as 2022. It is also closing the 26,000 barrel-a-day Gallup refinery in New Mexico and turning its 19,000 barrel-a-day Dickinson, North Dakota, facility into a renewable diesel plant by the end of 2020.

Phillips 66 is converting its 120,200 barrel-a-day Rodeo refinery near San Francisco into a renewables plant that will make so-called renewable diesel, as well as gasoline and jet fuel, out of used cooking oil, fats, greases and soybean oils. Its 44,500 barrel-a-day Santa Maria refinery to the south will shut permanently by early 2023.

HollyFrontier Corp. is turning its 48,000 barrel-a-day Cheyenne, Wyo., refinery into a renewable diesel plant by 2022.