The authoritarian president of reclusive Central Asian Turkmenistan has ordered to extinguish the flames that have been burning for half a century in a giant gas crater dubbed the “Gates of Hell”, television reported on Saturday. state.
The Darvaza gas crater, located in the Karakum desert, has been in continuous combustion since 1971. Over time, it has become the main tourist attraction in Turkmenistan, the former Soviet Republic being one of the most closed countries in the world. Its president, Gourbangouly Berdymoukhamedov, estimated that the flames burning in this 70-meter-wide well had “a negative effect on the environment and the health of neighboring populations“.
“We are wasting valuable natural resources for which we could receive gains that would be used to increase the well-being of our people,” he explained, according to statements broadcast by state television. He therefore ordered the authorities to “find a solution to put out the fire” that burns in Darvaza.
The origin of the crater
The origin of these “Gates to Hell” dates back to 1971, when Soviet scientists accidentally pierced an underground pocket of gas while drilling for deposits. The ground sagged, creating the crater. Fearing that it would emit poison gas, the authorities decided to set it on fire, believing that it would dry up the deposit. But half a century later, it is still burning.
Authorities tried to turn it off on several occasions, without success. At the same time, Turkmenistan has endeavored to make the site, located 270 kilometers from the capital, Ashkhabad, a tourist spot.
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Significant gas reserves
The blaze that has been burning for more than 50 years illustrates in any case the immensity of the gas reserves on which Turkmenistan sits, whose economy is very dependent on energy exports.
Last month, Russia announced that it had doubled in 2021 its gas imports from Turkmenistan, a country which wants to increase its annual sales to China to 100 billion cubic meters, against 40 billion cubic meters currently.