• Assets include U.K., Norway and Algeria, may fetch $4 billion
  • Units may attract buyout firms including Blackstone, Carlyle

French utility company Engie SA is pushing ahead with a plan to sell its exploration unit, offering assets that span Europe to Africa as the company works to reduce its exposure to oil and gas prices, people familiar with the matter said.

The company is planning to sell its upstream operations globally including businesses in the U.K., Norway, Algeria, Egypt, Germany and Asia, the people said, asking not to be named because the deliberations are private. The business could fetch about $4 billion, two of the people said, while others cautioned that the collection of assets is difficult to value in the current environment.

The business could attract interest from other companies in the industry as well as private equity firms including Blackstone Group LP and Carlyle Group LP, the people said. The talks are at an early stage, and no formal sale process has begun, they said.

Engie shares rose 8 cents to 15 euros in Paris trading at 9:52 a.m. The stock has declined 8.2 percent this year.

Engie said earlier this year that it will offload as much as 15 billion euros ($16.5 billion) in assets and cut 1 billion euros of costs by 2018. That includes a reorganization of the exploration and production business. The former French gas monopoly is working to reduce its exposure to oil, gas and power prices that have been undermined by oversupply and government subsidies of alternative, renewable power.

“Clearly when you look at our strategy, it’s no longer at the core,” Chief Executive Officer Isabelle Kocher said at an investor day in June. “We are not in a hurry.”

An Engie spokeswoman said the utility’s three-year plan to move to low-carbon businesses includes reducing its exploration and production portfolio. Representatives for Blackstone and Carlyle declined to comment.

The company sold a 30 percent stake in the exploration and production business to China Investment Corp. for 2.3 billion euros in 2011.

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