In the next 20 years, the drilling industry could see water shortages, water quality problems, more regulatory concerns and development of many new products and technologies.

Those are among predictions offered by present and former industry personnel regarding their expectations from now to 2020.

"We are definitely headed for a water shortage in my area," said George Oswald, a drilling company owner in Blythewood, SC. "In South Carolina, we have a ten-year deficit and it will take a long time for the water table to get back to what it was, especially if we continue having more droughts."

A driller for more than 35 years, Oswald said when he started his career, good wells were only 100 to 200 feet deep, but depths today range from 300 to more than 750 feet.

The South Carolina driller said he is also concerned about the future of the drilling industry.

"You used to see people who were interested in getting in the industry, but now it seems like everybody's interested in getting out of it. Nobody seems to want to put forth the effort for the small rewards that are there."

"When I started, you used to be able to just start a business and didn't need to do anything to proclaim yourself a drilling contractor; just go for it. You didn't need a license or anything, but now there are so many regulations it's tough to do business any more."

The quality of water which will be available in the future is a key concern for Howard (Porky) Cutter, a Certified Master Groundwater Contractor, drilling instructor and consultant.

"In the United States, we expect good, clean water, but foreign countries they appreciate it," he said. "I think in the next 20 years, we will have problems finding good water in general and I think we could have problems with water shortages."

"We have the same amount of water we have ever had. It depends on how we use it as to how much we will continue to have," Cutter said. He cited examples of many US cities and states which now limit water use at certain times as warning signs of likely shortages.

"I also think there will be more restrictions, particularly in the way we use water and I think that's needed. I think drillers will have to get more involved in helping to write the regulations which are being considered," he added.

Cutter said he believes the drilling industry will fare very well in the next 20 years, but drillers need to become better educated and more diversified.

"They have to learn there's more to drilling than drilling a hole in the ground. People still think of well drillers as well diggers because in the old days that's what they did. Even today they don't talk about getting a well drilled, they talk about getting one dug," he said.

Although some drillers were not well educated in the past, Cutter said he hopes more drillers will participate in professional development activities such as the certification programs offered by the National Ground Water Association.

"That's the only degree a well driller can get to show that he's certified." Cutter said.

Hydrogeologist Stuart Smith also echoed Cutter's concerns about drillers and agreed with Oswald about the need for more people to become involved in the industry in the future.

"Organized training of drilling professionals remains a difficult challenge, and recruiting good people into this skilled profession is much worse. There are really no more graduates of technical programs producing drillers now than there were in 1980. There is still little recognition in the industry of the value of formal training even though good courses and programs exist," Smith said.

Wilson Martin of Air Drilling Co., Statesville, NC, said he is glad to see that times have changed and drillers are finally getting credit as professionals and for the valuable services they provide.

Although many drillers fear increased development of private water systems. Martin said he doesn't believe the private systems will pose major problems in the future.

"You keep reading and hearing that the drilling industry will have to fight private water lines, but I don't believe the drilling industry will be hurt or die because there's too much invested in it. More rigs have been bought in the last couple of years than I can remember," Martin said.

"This industry has seen a lot of changes, but I think they have all been for the best. We are in a great industry," he said.