The Gate of Hell that never goes out

It is formally known as the Darvaza pit or crater. His nickname best describes the phenomenon. It is a methane hole that ignited decades ago in a remote area of ​​the Karakum Desert. The Gate of Hell that never goes out has been burning since then.

It is also called “Karakum Light.” It is above the Amu-Darya basin, a geological formation full of oil and methane. Much of this gas escapes through the Earth’s crust. If ignited, it will burn until the fuel, heat source, or oxygen-rich air is removed.

The Gate of Hell that never goes out is in Turkmenistan.
The Gate of Hell that never goes out is in Turkmenistan.

Birth by accident

It almost certainly began as a Cold War-era industrial accident. Some theories are speculated. Around 1960 and 1980, Soviet engineers were drilling in the area when the earth crumbled beneath them. And a geological wound opened that would unleash a maelstrom of methane. Maybe they turned on the gas hoping it would burn off quickly. Or someone threw a cigarette and started the fire.

The Gate of Hell that never goes out generates income for visitors to a country almost closed to outsiders. It has become the main tourist attraction in Turkmenistan. But the rulers, in 2022, demanded to put out the fire and put the methane it emits to practical use. This idea has some merit: methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas. It can cause brief, abrupt shocks in the weather. Turkmenistan is one of the most prolific methane emitters in the world.

To put an end to the Darvaza crater, two things are needed: putting out the fires and preventing the gas from leaking out of the ground. The first step is much easier than the second. Quick-drying cement could be sprayed into the crater, removing the oxygen-rich air that fuels the fires. Although the methane would find other ways to reach the surface.

It is not clear if there is a way to turn it off.
It is not clear if there is a way to turn it off.

Putting out the fire

The only way is to quell the leak at its methane source. Nobody knows how to do it. The key is to know what is under the Darvaza crater. Oil industry experts could locate the underground fissure that emits the gas. Concrete would then have to be pumped into the break through underground pipes.

Paradoxically, there is the remote possibility of using a large explosive device to seal the methane. This method has been used to put out fires in industrial wells. It would remove oxygen (thereby stopping the fire) while collapsing the rupture that is releasing the methane.

Experts seem to agree: any attempt to close Hell’s Gate would be very problematic. It is dangerous, expensive and possibly fruitless. Perhaps the best option is to do nothing at all.

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