Reliance and Essar eye BP's Africa retail ops: sources

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI Wed Jul 28, 2010 8:20am EDT

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NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L) (BP.N) is in talks with India's Reliance Industries (RELI.BO) and Essar Group to sell its African retail assets that could be worth as much as $500 million, four sources with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

It was not immediately known whether BP was showing the African assets to other potential buyers.

BP plans to sell $30 billion of assets over the next 18 months to cover costs related to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Reliance Industries, India's largest listed conglomerate, declined to comment, while a spokesman for steel-to-shipping conglomerate Essar said "We don't comment on speculations."

BP intends to sell its marketing business in Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania and Botswana and focus on South Africa and Mozambique.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance, whose interests include petrochemicals, refining, oil and gas exploration, and retail, is expanding its presence overseas by investing in new areas such as shale gas.

The Essar Group, controlled by billionaire brothers Shashi and Ravi Ruia, is also nursing ambitious expansion plans and recently raised $1.95 billion through an initial public offering of its energy and power businesses in London ESSR.L.

In September 2007, Reliance acquired Gulf Africa Petroleum Corp (GAPCO), an east African oil retailer, to gain access to the rapidly growing economies of the region and a growing demand for petroleum products.

"Reliance is looking into this opportunity as it has a presence in the African continent through GAPCO," one of the sources said.

All the sources declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

BP's planned asset sales are aimed at helping it pay for its liabilities and create a leaner company with the potential for higher growth. The company agreed to a $7 billion sale of oil and gas fields to Apache Corp last week.

India's state-run explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC.BO) and state-backed Petrovietnam are expected to submit a joint formal offer within weeks to buy BP's (BP.L) stake in the Nam Con Son gas project in Vietnam, India's oil secretary, S. Sundareshan said on Tuesday.

(Editing by Surojit Gupta)

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