EQT Corporation -- the largest natural gas producer in the United States -- fired a fourth of its total workforce on Tuesday to fulfill an ambitious “transformation strategy” intended to boost efficiency and shareholder value.

The Pittsburgh-based natural gas drilling firm said 196 out of its remaining 800+ employees were laid-off in the biggest mass layoff in EQT’s history. The layoffs reduce EQT’s employee numbers to some 650 people compared to more than 900 in 2018.

EQT said eliminating these 196 jobs will save about $50 million in annual costs.

CEO Toby Rice told employees EQT was "taking the difficult but necessary step of reducing our workforce to carry-out the next phase of its transformation plan."

"I'd like to thank you all for your patience and dedication in this recent period of uncertainty," wrote Rice in a memo to employees. "I fully understand that these changes are unsettling, but I firmly believe this is a step we must take if we are to turn the company around and succeed."

"I also believe it will better challenge, empower and support employees and create a highly-connected organization with no silos."

Rice also said the firings "represent another significant milestone as we transform EQT into a modern, technology-driven and efficient natural gas producer."

A number of employees were fired in January, including some of the senior EQT executives. New senior executives and managers appointed by Rice took the place of these old timers.

The mass firings come two years after EQT’s merger with Rice Energy Inc. Company officials quoted by media said the layoffs are part of EQT’s comprehsive plan to improve efficiency and cash flow.

As new CEO, Rice instituted a 100-day plan that will restructure and streamline EQT as it cuts costs and strives to become more efficient. The transformation is being demanded by shareholders that overwhelmingly voted for Rice and his team of directors at the company’s annual meeting on July 9.

Rice’s 100-day plan intends to generate an incremental $400 million to $600 million pretax cash flow above EQT’s projections.

In the memo, Rice said the company’s human resources representatives will work with the impacted employees. He said the company will expedite the severance packages of these employees. He wants the firings to end as quickly as possible.

The ongoing reorganization will slash number of EQT departments to 15 from 58.

Natural gas pipeline An aerial view shows a natural gas liquids pipeline under construction October 26, 2017 in Smith Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania. The 20 inch pipeline will carry natural gas liquids from fracked oil and gas wells in the Marcellus formation. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images