KENAI (AP) -- Prime shorebird habitat in western Cook Inlet will be off-limits to drilling rigs under terms of the state's coming Cook Inlet oil and gas lease sale.
The state Division of Oil and Gas plans to hold its second Cook Inlet Areawide sale Aug. 14 in Anchorage. It will offer all available tracts from Houston to Homer and Tuxedni Bay, an area of roughly 4.2 million acres.
New since the last Cook Inlet sale is a ban on drilling rigs in shorebird habitat in the Susitna Flats and Trading Bay state game refuges, the Redoubt Bay Critical Habitat Area and in Redoubt Bay south of the critical habitat area.
Claudia Slater, a biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Anchorage, said the reason for the change is a new federal study revealing that virtually the entire Pribilof Islands population of rock sandpipers gathers for the winter in western Cook Inlet.
Mitigation measures for the state's Cook Inlet oil and gas lease sales already banned drilling rigs within prime duck, goose and swan habitat. After the federal study, Fish and Game asked that shorebird habitat be protected, too.
''That wasn't in the mitigation measures before, because we hadn't documented the importance of the area to shorebirds,'' Slater said.
Jim Hansen, leasing manager for the Division of Oil and Gas, said the newly protected mud flats represent only a fraction of the total sale area.
''The companies aren't going to be putting rigs in that area anyway,'' he said.
It is generally easier to tap those tracts by directional drilling from higher ground or from offshore, he said.
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