Turkmenistan’s president has ordered the government to find a way to extinguish a colossal gas fire burning since the 1970s.
Dubbed the “Gates of Hell,” the fire was rumored to be started deliberately in 1971 when a gas-drilling site collapsed into a gas reservoir, and geologists decided to set it on fire to keep the methane from spewing into the atmosphere—in the expectation that the fire would die out on its own in a few weeks.
The crater currently measures more than 230 feet by 65 feet and is a major tourist attraction in Turkmenistan, which has proven reserves of 19.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, which makes them the world’s fourth-largest.
Production stood at a little over 60 billion cubic meters annually as of 2019, with half of that exported to China.
The “Gates of Hell” crater’s official name is the “Shining of Karakum,” but it is also known as the Darvaza Crater, named so after the nearby village. The site is located some 160 miles from the Turken capital Ashgabad.
According to long-time president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the fire is having an adverse impact on the environment and affecting the health of people living in the vicinity, according to a report by the AP citing Turkmen media.
What’s more, the country, which has ambitious gas export expansion plans, is losing a valuable commodity in the fire “for which we could get significant profits,” Berdymukhamedov said.
Turkmenistan plans to boost export to destinations including Pakistan, India, Iran, and even Western Europe over the next nine years.
This would not be the first attempt to put out the fire that has been burning for five decades. One previous attempt failed back in Soviet times. Then, in 2010, Berdymukhamedov again ordered experts to find a way to extinguish the fire, but was unsuccessful as well.