The federal government levied nearly $1.5 million in penalties last year against offshore oil and natural gas companies for violations that occurred on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) said Thursday.

The civil penalties are one of several tools that the MMS uses to manage oil and gas operations on the OCS, said the agency, which oversees exploration and drilling activities in federal waters. Major violations on the OCS are referred to the Justice Department.

MMS reported that a total of 41 penalties were assessed for offshore violations in 2006. Although a violation may have actually occurred prior to 2006, it said the penalties were paid between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of last year. The penalties ranged from a low of $5,000 for an inoperable sump pump to a high of $165,000 for bypassed safety valves, which would be used to shut in oil and gas in case of an emergency, the agency noted.

It reported that offshore operators have paid a total of $11.9 million in 278 penalties for violations that occurred between January 2000 and January 2007.

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