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Hell's Door - Turkmenistan (Derweze)

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Hell's Door

The Derweze area is rich in natural gas. While drilling in 1971, geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of about 70 metres (230 ft) at 40°15′10″N 58°26′22″E. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided to burn it off. Geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas still burns 40 years later. Locals have dubbed the cavern "The Door to Hell". Next to capturing the gas, flaring is safer and friendlier to the environment than releasing the methane into the atmosphere, as methane is a relatively potentgreenhouse gas with a high global warming potential of 72 (averaged over 20 years) or 25 (averaged over 100 years). Turkmenistan plans to increase its production of natural gas. In April 2010, the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed, or other measures be taken to limit its influence on the development of other natural gas fields in the area.

Located in the Kara-Kum desert of Turkmenistan is the village of Darvaza (Derweze) near to where, in 1971, a team of Soviet prospectors allegedly drilled into a large chamber filled with natural gas. The roof of the cavern collapsed leaving a crater-like sinkhole some 25 metres deep with a diameter of approximately 60 - 70 metres. It soon became evident that natural gas was still rising into the crater from even deeper sources and the story goes that the decision was made to ignite the emissions rather than risk either a concentrated build-up of gas or local poisoning. According to various sources it has burned continuously since then and has apparently been named “The Gate to Hell” by the local people. However, another source that spoke with the guides from the region claims that it is a wholly natural phenomenon.

This “it” is nearby the village of Darwaza (also spelled Derweze) in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Kara-Kum Desert. In 1971, when Turkmenistan was a republic of the Soviet Union, the state energy company was drilling near Darwaza when they accidentally bored into an underground cavern filled with natural gas. The drilling, combined with the sudden release of the pressure the natural gas was exerting on the cavern walls, caused the ground beneath the cavern to collapse.

Those working at the drill site were surprised (to say the least) to have suddenly collapsed the ground beneath them. Spot Cool Stuff, having no geologists on staff, is not in a position to judge whether the geologists at Darwaza in 1971 should have known the cavern was there. But what they did after the collapse seems to us to be . . . what’s the phrase? . . . incredibly stupid. The geologists decided to clear the cavern of the natural gas by setting it on fire.

It has been burning since.

The spectacle of this large burning gap in the ground is a rather incredible to witness. Obviously, it is most incredible at night when the red glow of the flames from Hell’s Gate are visible from up to 40 km (25 miles) away. The cater itself is about 75 meters (250 feet) at its widest point. The intense heat of the fire makes it difficult to stand near the carter’s edge for more than two or three minutes at a time. This is probably for the best: The funes coming from the crater are toxic.

Getting there: Darwaza is a bumpy four hour car ride from the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat.

Where to stay: There’s no hotel in Darwaza. A travel specialists can arrange both a stay in a local yurt along with a night time Hell’s Gate visit.

In the middle of the Karakoum (Turkmenistan) desert, close to the  disappeared village called Darvaza, there is a crater of about one  hundred meters of diameter and more than twenty meters of depth,  called “the hell’s door”. Inside this well, a fire has been burning for  dozens of years, a fire that looks endless. The Darvaza well is not  a work of nature, but the result of an unfortunate soviet mining  prospection started in the 50’s. In 1971, a drilling provoked the  collapse of an underground cavity, so revealing a gaping hole  leaking enormous quantities of gas. The geologists decided to torch  the well to eliminate such toxic gas, The soviets grossly underestimated  the dimensions of the cavity: the gas that should have burned out  within a few weeks has actually kept burning without interruption since  1971! It is unknown for how long “the « hell’s door » will keep on burning. Even though the well of Darvaza is located in a region difficult to  access, a lot of people gather there to observe this fascinating  phenomenon. The intense heat coming from the crater allows to approach  the place only for a few minutes because of the unbearable temperature.  At night the show is Dantean: the fire burns in all its magnificence, giving  the well the look of a volcanic burning crater.

hell door

The Door to Hell

1971. A group of Soviet Scientists were rooting around the small village of Dervaza. The village crucially lies in the Ahal Province of Turkmenistan, an area known for its abundance in one useful resource… Natural Gas. They found it. A site was identified next to the village and preparations were made for the drilling rig and camp to be set up on site, so as to facilitate the gathering of the sweet, sweet combustible resource.

There was, of course, an incident.

On an undisclosed date shortly after completion, the drilling rig was drilling. Surrounding it was a cornucopia of equipment dotted around the drilling camp. Gas was rapidly pouring in and being stored for transportation and the Soviet Scientists were reveling in their success.

In an instant the ground beneath the camp cracked and tore open, revealing a new crater 100 metres across. The camp and rig plummeted downwards, swallowed by the depths of this new menacing construct. It was a disaster none of them saw coming, fortunately no lives were lost. Despite the lack of injuries or deaths the Scientists were faced with a substantial problem, besides the massive new crater of course. The problem was the gas, of which there was a great deal. The Soviet Scientists recognised the threat, if left to its own devices, the crater would continue to pour out natural gas into the local atmosphere and poisoning the air itself and killing hundreds of people in the vicinity. This was undesirable to say the least. A plan was conceived.

Firstly they would leave the camp and drilling rig down there, as you can imagine volunteers to enter the crater filled with poisonous gas were thin on the ground. Instead they would set the gas alight. This would prevent the air being poisoned and after a few days the crater should burn off any excess gas seeping through before the fires too died out. Then they could return and see what was salvageable from the camp. The plan worked. The gas was burnt, preventing the poisoning, and the crater kept burning over the next few days.

It has been 40 years, the crater still burns.

It is known as the,’Door to Hell.‘

The cursed craters effects are noticeable to this day and have not made it a nice thing to be around.

From its burning mouth pours the stench of sulphur, fouling the local air and making anything with nasal cavities flee from the vicinity. Were the stench not untenable not enough, the roaring flames in the crater do their part also. In addition it glows day and night, the leaping flames nested are so ferocious that they produce a hazy glow which can be seen from several miles away.

In April 2010 the president of Turkmenistan ordered the fire to be quelled and the hole to be sealed so as to stop it removing gas from nearby gas drilling sites. While it is an amazing site that many would like to keep around we cannot expect it to last forever, the gas being burnt is much worse than Carbon Dioxide in its contributions to global warming. While the planet should preserve its places of oddity we must respect the environment.

To this very day no-one knows where all of the gas is coming from and we may never understand quite how the,’Gateway to Hell ,’ has kept burning for 40 years. Peculiar indeed…