Saudi Aramco is considering the sale of a stake in its vast natural gas pipeline network to help free up cash and draw more international investors to the kingdom, people familiar with the matter said.

The state-owned energy producer is holding preliminary discussions on the potential move, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Any deal could raise billions of dollars for Dhahran-based Aramco depending how a transaction is structured, according to the people.

Aramco is at the forefront of Saudi Arabia’s drive to attract foreign investment and diversify its economy. Earlier this month, it said it would raise more than US$12 billion selling a stake in its oil-pipeline unit to a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners.

The company is also conducting a strategic review of its upstream business in a move that could see it introduce external investors to some of its oil and gas assets, Bloomberg News reported last week. Aramco Chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan has started selling stakes in non-core assets to help maintain the company’s US$75 billion dividend, most of which goes to the Saudi government.

Aramco’s Master Gas System is a network of pipelines connecting its production with processing sites throughout the kingdom. The infrastructure has a current capacity of about 9.6 billion cubic feet per day, according to Aramco’s annual report.

Deliberations are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty Aramco will proceed with a transaction, the people said. Aramco, which is formally known as Saudi Arabian Oil Co., declined to comment.

The company reshuffled its senior management last year and created a division focused on “portfolio optimization,” which will “assess existing assets” and boost access to growth markets. It is headed by Abdulaziz Al Gudaimi, who reports to Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser.

Saudi Arabia has the eighth-largest gas reserves globally and the largest in the Arab world after Qatar, according to BP Plc. They have mostly been overlooked by the kingdom as it instead focused on its huge oil deposits. In recent years, the government has sought to increase gas production -- which reached a record level in 2020 -- to diversify the economy and transition to cleaner fuels for local power plants.