LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - Israel-focused gas driller Energean (ENOG.L) has emerged as the front-runner in the race to acquire Italian energy group Edison’s (EDNn.MI) oil and natural gas unit, two sources directly involved in the deal said.
The acquisition would significantly expand Energean’s operations in the growing eastern Mediterranean gas hub with a significant presence in Egypt’s offshore basin.
Edison’s portfolio also includes assets in Italy, Algeria, Croatia, the British and Norwegian North Sea as well as Greece, a company presentation showed.
Greece’s Energean got into the final bidding round for the Edison portfolio along with Cairn Energy (CNE.L), industry and banking sources said. It is now seen as the favourite to win, according to the sources.
The value of the bids for the Edison portfolio was unclear. EDF and Edison are expected to make a final decision in the coming days, one of the sources said.
Edison, which is majority owned by French utility EDF (EDF.PA) declined to comment. Energean, EDF and Cairn declined to comment.
Buying Edison’s portfolio would sharply increase Energean’s $1.6 billion market valuation, 15 months after it listed on the London Stock Exchange which was followed by a secondary listing on the Tel Aviv exchange.
Energean has lined up capital to finance the deal in recent months, one of the sources said.
The acquisition would mark a bold bet by Chief Executive Mathios Rigas as Energean develops the Karish and Tanin gas fields offshore Israel, where production is due to start early in 2021, at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion.
The firm’s core earnings rose to $52.4 million in 2018 from $20.7 million a year earlier. It expects to produce up to 4,800 barrels per day in 2019, a recent presentation on its website showed.
Edison produced around 50,000 barrels of oil and gas equivalent per day in 2018, according to its website. Its portfolio includes reserves of 209.1 million barrels of oil equivalent in 97 concessions, permits and reserves.
Energean plans to produce over 3 billion cubic metres of gas per year in Israel following the field start-up, which has already been sold through long-term supply contracts into Israel.
Edison, which is Italy’s third biggest power producer after Enel (ENEI.MI) and Eni (ENI.MI), wants to exit oil and gas production to focus on renewable energy, electricity and gas retail business and energy efficiency services.
Edison ran the sale process with investment banks Rothschild (ROTH.PA) and Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co (TPH), the sources said.
TPH and Rothschild declined to comment.
Europe’s power sector has in recent years come under heavy pressure due to weak energy demand, low wholesale prices and a surge in demand for cleaner energy.
As a result, several utility firms including EDF, France’s Engie and Germany’s RWE have opted to divest their oil and gas assets.
Additional reporting by Stephen Jewkes in Milan; Editing by Veronica Brown/Emelia Sithole-Matarise/Susan Fenton