Drillers and the drilling industry have seen a surge of changes in products and technology, but some key aspects of the industry have changed very little during the past 20 years, according to drillers and industry officials.

"The drilling industry changes so slowly, you almost don't realize at times that it has changed," said Michael A. Henry of Henry Drilling and Pump Co. of Franklin, TN.

"Everything we use today is a lot better than it was 20 years ago. The equipment is a lot faster, but it's also a lot more expensive. A rig that cost you $20,000 in 1970 will cost you $380,000 or $390,000 or more today. You've also got rigs today with air conditioning and chrome wheels and 25 years ago we wouldn't have dreamed of a drilling rig with chrome wheels."

Although they're more expensive, today's drilling rigs are much improved, said J.T. Kessler, an Ingersoll-Rand product manager and drilling job troubleshooter.

"We used to drill a well in two days, now they drill two wells a day. Rock hasn't gotten any softer, so something has to have gotten better," Kessler said.

"In the past drillers used to drill 25 feet per hour, and now they're drilling 175 feet per hour. There's more air and more hydraulics and more conveniences on the rigs today and a lot of the weight has been removed. They've put drilling rigs on a diet by adding aluminum wherever they can to reduce the weight."

Kessler said computers are now being linked to drilling rigs in the blasthole industry to help determine powder charges, and he expects the cyber trend to expand into water well drilling.

Master Ground Water Contractor Howard (Porky) Cutter, of Virginia Beach, VA, expressed concern that many drillers haven't kept pace with changing times.

"Most drillers don't use computers because they don't understand them and they feel threatened by them," Cutter said. "They'll buy a half- million-dollar machine that they don't know what a lever on it does, but they won't buy a $1,500 computer. I encourage drillers to get more involved with computers, because the technology is out there to help them find anything they need."

Cutter said economic conditions today are far different and drillers must face facts.

"Everything costs more today, parts, labor and supplies, and all the drillers are doing is working more for less money," he said. "For someone not to be paid well enough for what they do, they have to know a lot about everything. They have to be electricians, plumbers, carpenters, salesmen, consultants and teachers because they have to teach people what they need, but well drillers don't want to miss out on a job even if they have to lose money."

While equipment and technology have improved the drilling industry and increased speeds for drilling wells, Carl Morgan of Baroid Drilling Fluids said he is concerned that there are less drillers than in the past.

"The number of drillers has changed because it's gone down a bunch. Everything used to be done with cable tool rigs and there was a bunch of cable tool guys, but now they're about all gone cable tool guys are about all gone," he said.

Morgan added younger people entering the drilling business today must be better business people than drillers have been in the past. "It's not good enough any more to just do things the way daddy did it when he got started," he said.

Joe Goebel, a Certified Master Groundwater Contractor and partner in Goebel Brothers Inc. of Evansville, IN, said his family-owned business has operated since 1936, but his two sons aren't interested in joining the business.

Goebel said the industry must do a better job of showing current and prospective drillers how to be more profitable and successful.

"In 1975, you could buy a Ford three-quarter-ton pickup truck for $6,000 and you could sell a well for $3,000. Today that Ford costs $24,000 and we are still getting $3,000 for a well. There's something wrong with that," Goebel said.

He added today's technology has made it much easier to be a driller.

"The major change in my business has been fax machines, cell phones and computers," Goebel said. "A man can go in business today with a used drill rig and a cell phone and he can run a successful business because he can answer his calls from a job site on the cell phone and give the impression he's a big-time operator."

"Not too many people want to be part of a one or two-man operation any more, but it is still achievable to be in business for yourself and be an entrepreneur and not work for the other guy," he said.

From a product standpoint, Goebel said one of the greatest changes has been the quality of submersible pumps and especially their lightning protection.

"We used to do a landslide business in replacing them because of lightning, but today they have lightning protection built in and where we used to get 15 to 20 calls from one storm, today we don't get any," he said.

In the past 20 years, significant changes have occurred in how wells are viewed, said hydrogeologist and National Driller columnist Stuart Smith.

"Personally, I'm glad to be part of the transformation of thinking about wells from being forgotten throwaways to being subjects of considerable care and attention in some quarters," Smith said. "All the modern references on well rehabilitation and maintenance date from after 1980, and most after 1990."

Smith said he is concerned, however, that drillers and scientists-engineers in the groundwater field have drifted apart and need to begin communicating with each other for everyone's benefit.

On the environmental front, a primary concern in recent years has been fear of lead in drinking water, said Steve Mincey, a National Driller columnist and pump expert. "Some materials, such as brass, in well pumps and water-related accessories came under scrutiny and were labeled as being primarily responsible for the lead content found in various water wells," Mincey said.

"This determination literally stopped the industry in its tracks. Manufacturers had to scramble to design, procure materials and market products made of 'lead-free' materials."

Mincey said many manufacturers still offer redundant products of lead-free brass, plastic or stainless steel construction, potentially seriously impacting their bottom-line performance due to the product duplication.

In addition to new products which have changed the drilling industry, National Driller columnist Bob Pelikan said changes in electronics technology are revolutionizing the water systems area today.

"We are just at the beginning. Ten years ago, sophisticated motor protection devices began to find their way into the pumping industry and now virtually all large pumps as well as many of the smaller residential systems are protected by electronic devices," Pelikan said.