A Place Called: The Door To Hell?

The deposit as seen at night, 2010.
Turkmenistan: The Door to Hell

Truly one of the most unusual and magnificent places in the world, The Door to Hell is a constantly burning crater located in Turkmenistan. For over 35 years, it has enthused scientists and the general public alike.
Discovered initially by exploring geologists, the Door to Hell was a large cavern full of poisonous natural gas that collapsed into a crater under the weight of the scientists’ equipment. Hoping to burn off the excess gas underground, they set it alight — and it’s been burning ever since.
 A CLOSER LOOK

The Door to Hell is a natural gas field in Derweze (also spelled Darvaza, meaning "gate"), Ahal Province, Turkmenistan. The Door to Hell is noted for its natural gas firing which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical scientists in 1971, fed by the rich natural gas deposits in the area. The pungent smell of burning sulfur pervades the area for some distance



Geography

The field is situated near the Derweze village. It is in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260 kilometres (160 mi) north from Ashgabat. The gas reserve found here is one of the largest in the world. The name, "Door to Hell", was given to the field by the locals, referring to the fire, boiling mud and orange flames in Derweze's large crater with a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft). The hot spots range over an area with a width of 60 metres (200 ft) and to a depth of about 20 metres (66 ft).

History

The site was identified by Soviet scientists in 1971. It was thought to be a substantial oil field site. The scientists set up a drilling rig and camp near by, and started drilling operations to assess the quantity of gas reserve available at the site. As the Soviets were pleased with the success of finding the gas resources, they started storing the gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and disappeared. No lives were lost in the incident. However, large quantities of methane gas were released, creating an environmental problem and posing a potential danger to the people of the nearby villages.
Fearing the release of further poisonous gases from the cavern, the scientists decided to burn it off. They thought that it would be safer to burn it than to extract it from underground through expensive methods. Environmentally, gas firing is the next best solution when the circumstances are such that it cannot be extracted for use. Methane gas released into the atmosphere is also a dangerous greenhouse gas whose potential for global warming is high. At that time, expectations were that the gas would burn within days, but it is still burning, four decades after it was set on fire.

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