The project had been under development for ten years, and yet:
According to the paper, problems started when the boiler that was intended to melt large quantities of snow to provide hot water for the drill failed to work properly because of short-circuiting in its control panel. More severe problems followed. The two parallel drills — one to drill the main borehole to reach the lake, and one to create a reservoir cavity to recirculate drilling water — ran too slowly. Other failures, including of components designed to ensure vertical drilling, exacerbated the problems.
“The drilling was essentially undertaken blindly,” says Siegert. Probably because one or both holes were not drilled vertically, the cavity failed to link with the main borehole. Water also leaked into the cavity drill and froze the hose in the drill hole. Attempts to remove the hose failed, so it had to be cut. At that point, and with not enough fuel left to reach the lake, Siegert gave up.
Seems to me that these problems — some very basic engineering design errors — are a good example of some basic incompetence. If I was providing financial backing to this project I would probably demand that a lot of people be fired before I would give them anymore money.
The report also has this interesting detail which confirms the doubts about the Russian drilling effort:
In 2012, Russian scientists broke into Lake Vostok, by far the largest of Antarctica’s hidden lakes, using a kerosene-fuelled drill. But their samples are spoiled with drill fluid and the bacteria they contain are probably contaminant species.