Eskimos, environmentalists and the state of Alaska lost their battle to keep drilling rigs out of one of the world's richest salmon fishing grounds, exploration that the oil companies say will not harm the wildlife.

In the din of a convention hall ringing with shouts of "Illegal proceeding!" federal officials already were opening bids Tuesday when word came from Washington that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had denied the state's urgent request to stop the process of bidding on nearly 1,000 tracts in Bristol Bay.The bids totaled $114 million for the right to drill exploratory wells in the $1 billion-a-year fishing grounds off southwest Alaska.