The "Door to Hell" is a surreal feature in the Karakum Desert near the Derweze village in Turkmenistan, 260 kilometers from its capital city of Ashgabat. Named as the Darvaza Crater or “Door to Hell”, the gaping crater was created by a mining miscalculation in a natural gas field whose walls collapsed into an underground cavern. To prevent the toxic methane gas from escaping into the atmosphere and the surrounding areas, the geologists thought it best to set the crater on fire. This was in 1971, and the crater has been burning since. It now encompasses an area of around 5,320 square meters, with a diameter of about 226 feet and a depth of about 98 feet.
The “Door to Hell” was the result of human errors. In 1971, a team of Soviet engineers identified the site for oil drilling and an oil rig was dug at the site. Soon, engineers realized it was not oil but natural gas that was present underneath and the escape of gas triggered a collapse of the drilling rig and camp into an underground cavern. To prevent the toxic gases from escaping into the nearby towns and villages, the decision was made to burn the gasses off. However, what they thought would be a burn that would last a few weeks went on for more than four decades with the fire burning bright even today in the “Door to Hell”.
Today, not many tourists visit the “Door to Hell” in Turkmenistan as the country is still one of the least visited countries in the world. The government of Turkmenistan now wishes to promote tourism and also advertise the “Door to Hell” as one of its prime tourist destinations. Currently, however, the enormous fire pit is not fenced in and tourists often approach dangerously close to the edges of the pit. The ground near the edges being unstable poses a significant threat to the lives of tourists. Still, the “Door to Hell” continues to inspire the awe of all and will continue to do so till the fire dies down or the pit is closed by the authorities.
Natural Gas Reserves in Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan has the ambitious goal to triple its gas reserves in the next twenty years and the availability of the natural gas reserves in the Karakum Desert makes it an ideal choice for natural gas mining. However, the presence of the “Door to Hell” might hinder such explorations as fire from the crater might spread to nearby natural gas reserves. The increase in natural gas production of the country would empower its economy significantly through export revenue generated by exporting natural gas to markets in India, China, Russia, and Western Europe.