The Fatah project went ahead despite warnings from experts that it could not succeed because the underground terrain was shattered and unstable.
It continued chewing up astonishing amounts of cash when the predicted problems bogged the work down, with a contract that allowed crews to charge as much as $100,000 a day as they waited on standby.
The company in charge engaged in what some American officials saw as a self-serving attempt to limit communications with the government until all the money was gone.
And until Mr. Sanders went to Al Fatah, the Army Corps of Engineers, which administered the project, allowed the show to go on for months, even as individual Corps officials said they repeatedly voiced doubts about its chances of success.
The Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, had commissioned a geotechnical report that warned in August 2003 that it would be courting disaster to drill without extensive underground tests.
“No driller in his right mind would have gone ahead,” said Mr. Sanders, a geologist who came across the report when he arrived at the site.