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Evacuations start at some Gulf of Mexico operations as storm threatens

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Workers for some Gulf of Mexico oil and gas operators were being evacuated from offshore facilities on Thursday as a low-pressure system threatened to strengthen into a cyclone but production was not interrupted.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said a weather disturbance in the northwestern Caribbean Sea had become less organized overnight and had a 50 percent chance of becoming a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours, down from a 70 percent chance.

"Development of this system is not anticipated while it moves over land, but there is still potential for development once the disturbance moves over the Gulf of Mexico on Friday," the Center said in its latest bulletin on Thursday.

Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex said it was monitoring the storm but had no plans to evacuate its installations, including its platforms in the Bay of Campeche at the southern tip of the Gulf of Mexico, where it extracts 80 percent of its crude output.

Marathon Oil Corp said on Thursday it was evacuating workers not essential to production from its Ewing Bank platform, which can produce up to 9,700 barrels per day of oil and 8.2 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. Such workers would include cooks and maids.

"Marathon Oil's operated production has not been impacted at this time," spokeswoman Lee Warren said.

BP Plc said it was evacuating nonessential workers from oil and gas platforms. It has four platforms in the central Gulf, including Thunder Horse, the biggest in the world.

The company said it had temporarily halted contracted drilling rigs, but platforms were still working.

"Oil and natural gas production at all BP-operated platforms remains online at this time," the company said.

Destin Pipeline Co LLC also said pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico operated by BP were evacuating nonessential workers. The company said it would continue to accept natural gas flows as weather conditions permit.

Other companies said they were monitoring the storm.

(Reporting by Kristen Hays and Erwin Seba in Houston, Eileen Houlihan in New York and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City; Editing by Terry Wade, Simon Gardner, Toni Reinhold)

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