The Island Drillers
Henry Brown, 76, is the resident well driller on Roatan. With a tired look, strong hands and wrinkled face he keeps his office in a trailer in French Harbour. With a weathered, 45-year-old trusted machine he has been drilling wells on the island since 1975.
Brown comes from a family with five generations of work in the drilling business. He is thinking about retiring and joining his aging mother and a disable son in the States. Drilling can be a dangerous business and Brown’s son was injured on a drilling job.
When Brown first came to the island there were only three shallow wells in the French Harbour area. He was attracted by the prospect of teaching at a trade school on the island and has never left.
Using his tungsten carbide bit drilling machine Brown has been drilling 12-15 wells a year on the island for over 30 years. His deepest well was in First Bight and descended to 275 feet. His costs are half of what his mainland competitor charges – $32 a foot. “I have to live with people here,” Brown explains his attitude.
The only other well driller on the Bay Islands, Asdrubal Hasbun, a drilling manager at the Inversiones Diversas, has been drilling on Roatan since 1985, when APRODIB, a national non-profit, invited the company to the island. His 40-ton machine uses a hammer drill and can drill a well in one day.
A majority of the time Hasbun works on the mainland drilling wells up to 1,000 feet deep and using a variety of pipes-from 4 to 22 inches in diameter. Hasbun brings in the machine and its three-man crew to Roatan every time a list of eight to ten clients ready to construct a well is made.
There are a few differences between the ways the two island well drillers operate on Roatan. Brown says that he doesn’t set his pipe all the way down as Hasbun does. This, according to Brown, prevents clogging up the water intake filters, requiring expansive maintenance. Brown is also concerned with Hasbun’s hammer drill’s vibrations that could damage nearby telecom and pipe infrastructure.
“My equipment is old but it will still do the job,” says Brown. Brown’s rotary drill, “failing” machine is slower, but it does not cause as much vibration as faster hammer drills used by his competitor.
The energy hungry Hasbun machine guzzles up between $100 and $150 of diesel a day. Asdrubal’s price is almost twice what Brown charges – $60 per foot drilled, including a 6-inch PVC pipe that by itself can cost over $10 a foot.
“You get what you pay for,” says Pastor Chuck Laird, from Sonrise Calvary in Sandy Bay. Brown typically places a 6″ PVC pipe for only the first 40 feet of the drilling, then switches to a 4″ diameter drill and doesn’t place a PVC pipe.
If the soil is solid, that does not matter, but in softer soils this could mean Brown’s well would collapse and would need to be re-drilled. According to Pastor Laird, the two well drillers are quite different and comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. “For small producing, personal wells I go with Henry Brown. For commercial wells, I use Hasbun,” says Laird, who has used both drillers at this property in Sandy Bay and a community well project in Colonia Policarpo Galindo.
Hasbun’s deepest well to date was the Los Fuertes community well that reached 400 feet. Hasbun says that the key to correctly using the wells on the island is not to use them at full capacity. “No one should use the well more than 15 hours a day and no more than at 60% capacity,” he says.
Neither Hasbun nor Brown see any substantial degradation of aquifers on Roatan. They are experienced drillers and can find water 95% of the time. Brown believes that some of the aquifers on the island may be connected with the aquifers on the Honduran mainland – some 20 miles away. “The aquifer has lowered a bit, but that may just depend on the rain season,” says Hasbun as he sits under the shade of a mango tree looking at his machine drill a well in Dixon Cove. [/private]