Prelude

Nobody has seen how the hell looks like, but there are some places on mother earth that are little scary, places that feel sinister, and then there are places that are spine-chilling, downright hellish. Around four decades ago, one unfortunate incident or mishap took place that gave birth to one such a hellish place. The Dervaza gas crater, which is also known as “The Door to Hell”, or “The Gates of Hell”, is located in the Karakum Desert of central Turkmenistan. This place is around 240 km from the country’s capital city Ashgabat. This pit attracts hundreds of tourists each year. In the darkest of night, wild blazes from the crater dance and lick the air, casting a menacing glow that is visible from miles around the desert. For decades, the fires within the crater have been burning without end, fed by an apparently unconstrained pocket of natural gas.

History

Details on the origin of the sinkhole are sketchy, but the legend has that during the 1970s when Turkmenistan was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), Soviet geologists came here to explore the desert for oil and natural gas, which can often be detected seeping through the sand. After initial examination and testing, they thought they found a substantial oil field and began drilling. Unfortunately for the geologists, they were drilling on top of a cavernous pocket of natural gas which was not able to bear the weight of their drilling equipment. The site totally collapsed, taking equipment along with it- and this mishap lead to collapse the crumbly sedimentary rock of the desert, creating a 225 feet (69 meters) wide and 99 feet (30 meters) deep live inferno.

Reportedly, no one was injured in the breakdown, but this leads the geologists to another problem on their hands: the poisonous natural gas that was uncontrollably leaking from the crater. Natural gas is mostly composed of methane which makes breathing difficult by displacing oxygen. This leakage had greater impact on animals for whom the Karakum desert was home-shortly after the collapse, animals began to die in the vicinity of the crater. Methane is also very flammable-theoretically, only 5% of methane in the air is sufficient for an explosion to take place. Therefore, the geologists decided to light up the crater, anticipating that all the hazardous natural gas would burn away in a few days’ time or in a few weeks’ time for that matter. But this crater is burning for the last four decades and still glorious flames are showing no signs of extinguishing.

The case of detection of natural gas is not very rare as it sounds in oil and gas industry. During drilling operations, it is very normal that natural gas pockets are detected. Unlike oil, which can be stored in on-field facilities indefinitely after drilling, natural gas needs to be immediately processed. Drillers often tend to burn natural gas to get rid of it. This process is called “flaring”, and it wastes several million dollars’ worths of natural gas every day. 

Impacts
  • Due to poisonous burning of methane gas, it is reported that animals wandering in the vicinity of the crater started dying because of intake of gas.
  • The unpleasant smell of sulfur poisons the perimeter for hundreds of yards in every direction while its recesses spit boiling mud with flames licking high from molten rock.
  • The president of Turkmenistan ordered the Dervaza village to vacate in 2004. The then leader Niyazov claimed that the village was an unpleasant sight for tourists.
  • Turkmenistan is ranked fourth in the world for proven natural gas reserves. Concerning this fact it was decided that the crater should be closed in order to resume exploration and drilling operations, but the crater is still burning with wild flames.
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