The UK Government will allow fossil fuel companies to explore for oil and gas under offshore wind power sites for the first time, angering climate activists. 

The regulator of North Sea oil and gas production, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), will announce on Friday that it is granting approximately 30 exploration licences to fossil fuel companies on sites previously set aside for future offshore windfarm development. 

Supporters of the move argue that if any oil or gas is found on these sites, future drilling will be able to be powered by clean wind energy. However, this argument has failed to impress those concerned about climate change. 

Former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore, who resigned from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government in opposition to the Prime Minister’s rolling back of climate targets, said: “This is a deeply irresponsible and divisive move that goes against all advice from the International Energy Agency or the UN, and regrettably will further set back the UK’s climate reputation. 

“Instead of wind powering new oil, the investment should instead be in more wind and renewables. More fossil fuels will only create stranded assets and stranded jobs at a time when demand for oil and gas is falling.” 

He added: “We need to stop playing politics with climate and people’s future, and take a grown-up position on seeking to find consensus for an end date to new oil and gas.” 

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Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “It is hard to think of a worse use of clean electricity from wind farms than powering the dirty industry that is driving the climate crisis. It is like using a nicotine patch to roll a cigarette.” 

In a statement to the Guardian, the NSTA failed to alleviate any concerns, merely noting that it has “worked closely with other regulators to consider matters of co-location with offshore wind and other users”.