23rd Jun 2012

The Door to Hell

260 km north of the capital of Turkmenistan is a little-known gas crater 100 m wide that has been on fire for 41 years. The Middle Eastern country was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and in 1971, an oil drilling rig working in the Karakum Desert accidentally punched into an enormous underground cavern of natural gas. The ground crumbled and collapsed in on itself, dragging the drilling rig down with it. Poisonous fumes began to leak out, but although an environmental disaster loomed, no one dared venture down into the crater. Instead, the Soviets decided to burn the gas off. They set the hole alight, hoping the fuel would be used up within days, but a vein of natural gas through the area has kept the crater aflame until today—and will likely keep it alight for a long time yet. The non-stop burning produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide and wastes natural resources, but the sight of it is brilliant. The crater can be seen glowing for kilometres, and the locals have dubbed it “The Door to Hell”. The Soviet drilling rig is still, presumably, in Hell.

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