W.F. Nash explores incrementalism: the practice of moving our society, via government and the educational system, toward a goal that most of us would never stand for in one step.

I've noticed a new word creeping into common use lately. Incrementalism: The practice of moving our society, via government and the educational system, toward a goal that most of us would never stand for in one step. We allow tiny bites, or increments, of our freedom to be exchanged for some, usually imaginary, security.

"It can't happen to me," you say? Let me draw you a picture of how easy it is. If you boiled a pot of water and chunked a frog in, the frog would figure out what's happening right quick and hop right back out. But if you set a pot of cold water on the stove, and then chunked the frog in, he'd be happy as a clam in the water. Turn the stove on and, by increments, heat the water. In a few minutes, you've got a boiled frog! The frog never notices that the water is getting hotter and hotter until it's too late. This scenario shows incrementalism at its most basic level.

Does this affect the drilling industry? You'd better believe it does. Fifty or 100 years ago, there were no licensing requirements, no standards, and a pretty limited technology to construct safe, clean, productive wells properly. There were good, honest drillers, and there were jackleg drillers. The best drillers enjoyed good reputations, prospered and developed the technology we have today. The jackleg drillers limped along, barely making a living, cheating their customers and cutting every available corner to get by. After enough customers got the shaft, they petitioned the government to set standards and regulate the industry. This government intervention led to the establishment of construction standards that most of the good drillers had been following or exceeding for years. It did tend to improve the construction standards of the drillers who cut every corner just to get by.

Next came mandatory licensing, which was no problem for reputable drillers. They took the tests and proved to the state what their customers knew already: they were honest, hardworking people who provided the best product possible. The jackleg drillers griped about the requirements, yet they usually managed to get licensed somehow. This allowed them to tell their customers that the state approved everything they were doing. This had the unforeseen effect of lowering the standards for all.

The latest trend in the business is continuing education. It is an excellent idea that's time has come. What I wonder about, though, is why do we need to be told by the government to do it? It should be the goal of every driller to improve his knowledge and techniques. It should be the goal of every drillers' association to provide continuing education to its members. Now is the chance for the drillers associations to get and stay one step ahead of government regulation.

Several state associations have contacted me regarding my thoughts on how to set up and administer these programs. A couple of the main points I emphasized were, first, get a program in place before the government requires you to. Second, be on the cutting edge when it comes to providing drillers the knowledge and tools they need to deliver a better product to their customers. The seminars should range from the basic to the advanced, allowing for the skill levels of all their participants. When the states get around to requiring continuing education, we can go to them and say, "We've been doing this for years and have the best program available." We need to be involved in our associations. We need to continue to educate ourselves. We need to raise the standards of professionalism in the eyes of the customer.

If we don't take the initiative, the government, by increments, will regulate us to the point that they eventually will tell us what color to paint our rigs, or some such other ridiculous regulation. You say that can't happen? Just ask the frog.