The President of Turkmenistan has just reiterated his desire to extinguish the gas well bearing the name of “Gates of Hell”, which has been on fire for five decades.
It has been 50 years since flames have continuously erupted from this gaping hole in the soil of Turkmenistan. An incredible site near the village of Derweze, in the middle of the Karakum desert, and whose name is more than evocative: thefrom hell.
Gas exploration gone wrong
If the place is impressive to say the least, there is nothing mystical about it. Even if the exact circumstances of its conflagration are poorly documented, it would seem that it is to be associated with a mistake of Soviet engineers and scientists exploring this oil field in 1971. Scientists then drill in the aimof the site. But the unstable ground collapsed, giving rise to a crater 70 meters in diameter and 30 meters deep. A large quantity of methane then escapes from the breakthrough. The site immediately becomes unusable and now represents a danger for the environment and for the inhabitants of the region. Having no other solution to stop the gas, the Soviets decide to put the at the well. They estimate that the methane reserve should be exhausted within a few weeks. A big mistake in estimating the site’s reserves, since the crater has been in flames for more than 50 years now.
A welcome ecological disaster for tourism
If the site is indeed spectacular and represents, moreover, one of the flagship attractions for the rare tourists venturing into this former country of the Soviet Union, now considered a totalitarian state, the ecological balance sheet of this gas conflagration is rather disturbing. Besides the huge amounts of, the flaming well also most certainly releases other components such as , odorous gases and aerosols, toxic for the surrounding environment and in particular for the inhabitants of the surrounding villages.
It is also against a background of environmental considerations that President Gourbangouly Berdymoukhamedov explains wanting to extinguish the flaming crater, even if economic considerations are certainly prevalent in this political decision.
An economic resource that goes up in smoke
Indeed, for the country, thisgas represents an important energy and financial issue. And the fact that it burns quietly at the free for 50 years is, to be sure, a huge waste. You should know that Turkmenistan and exports, especially to Russia and China, are only increasing year by year. The goal of the Turkmen president is therefore to tame the well in order to exploit it. From an ecological point of view, it is roughly the same, except that at least the produced by burning the gas would be used to generate electricity or , which would in any case prove to be less bad than letting the gas reserve escape into the atmosphere until it is exhausted.
But is it possible to extinguish this flared well? Nothing is certain from a technical point of view. In 2010, Gourbangouly Berdymoukhamedov had already ordered a solution to the problem of the Door to Hell. Twelve years later, nothing seems to have progressed.
From a scientific point of view, however, the flaming chasm is of particular interest. In 2013, the Canadian explorer George Kourounis had ventured there, protected by a heat resistant suit. He had then collected soil samples in the bottom, in which manyExtremophiles had been discovered. This site therefore appears particularly interesting in the study of extreme environments and in particular of the development of life on other planets.