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Barrick Gold’s incoming CEO Jamie Sokalsky.

Philip Cheung/The Globe and Mail

Barrick Gold Corp. is considering the sale of its energy unit as the world's largest gold miner continues a radical revamp of capital spending and corporate strategy to focus on rate of return and free cash flow.

The unit, created four years ago as a way to mitigate energy costs, was effectively put on sale this month in an open auction process, with a data room opened in recent days.

Toronto-based Barrick has been on a mission to realign its fortunes since last June, when it dismissed chief executive officer Aaron Regent amid broad-based investor discontent with the company's fading stock price.

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Incoming chief executive Jaimie Sokalsky said on taking the post that he would realign Barrick's strategy to focus on returns to investors rather than the industry's historic focus on production growth, often at any cost.

A month after taking the helm at Barrick, Mr. Sokalsky announced a 60 per cent rise in costs at the Pascua-Lama gold and silver project that straddles snowy mountain peaks between Chile and Argentina.

"Barrick is currently evaluating opportunities to optimize the company's global portfolio as part of a disciplined capital allocation framework introduced in 2012," said Barrick spokesman Andy Lloyd.

"Opportunities to divest non-core assets, including Barrick Energy, are under consideration as part of this process," Mr. Lloyd said.

Mr. Sokalsky has deferred some $4-billion in planned spending on projects that did not meet rigorous investment criteria, and shelved plans to develop two multibillion-dollar projects, Cerro Casale in Chile and Donlin in Alaska.

Barrick Energy is the company's oil and gas unit, providing a hedge against the company's exposure to oil prices. In a 2011 annual report, Barrick said the energy unit made a net contribution of approximately $156 million, helping to reduce cash costs of producing gold at the company.

Barrick Energy was formed in 2008 with the $410-million cash acquisition of Cadence Energy Inc. It bought the company as part of a long-term strategy to hedge oil exposure at lower rates than those available in the forward market and has nearly tripled production in subsequent years to some 9,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day from 3,600 when it was acquired.

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In January, Barrick backed off efforts to sell its African unit to state-owned China National Gold Group (CNGC), unwilling to settle for fire-sale prices even as it struggles to cover massive cost overruns elsewhere.

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