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Sign board with price of regular gas at an Esso gas station on Parliament St. in Toronto. With the weekend approaching, people top up their vehicles at an Esso gas station on Parliament St. in Toronto on April 17 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Imperial Oil Ltd. is thinking about selling 500 gas stations to partners who would continue to sell fuel under the Esso brand.

Roughly two-thirds of Imperial's 1,700 Esso stations across Canada have been operating under what it calls a "branded wholesaler" model for about 15 years. The Calgary-based company said Wednesday that it's looking into whether it makes sense to do the same with the remainder.

Imperial, majority owned by U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil Corp., would supply fuel to those stations. It will also look at growth opportunities for its On the Run convenience store banner.

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Brad Merkel, vice-president of fuels and lubricants at Imperial, said it's too soon to say how much money the company could make from the sale. It's also too soon to say whether the stations will be sold in one fell swoop or through a series of deals.

"I would say we're not ruling anything out at this point in time," Merkel said.

"We have about 12 branded wholesale partners today and we expect that all of them might be interested in at least pieces of the business and we think there's parties out there that might be interested in all of it. We'll look at all of our options."

The assessment should take about six to eight months, he added.

"We're looking for partners who really share our vision and are willing to invest in helping us to grow our business."

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