Door to Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan
Episode #3 of the course “Natural Wonders of the World”
In 1971, Soviet drillers looking for oil and natural gas were exploring the Karakum Desert around the town of Derweze when they stumbled on a large deposit. After quickly setting up their drilling equipment, they began to extract methane and other natural gases and store them nearby. However, one of the drilling platforms collapsed. No one was hurt, but the collapse created a crater over 230 feet wide and 60 feet deep that was still leaking methane.
The engineers decided that it would be safer and less expensive to burn off the gases rather than attempt to extract them with equipment, but they grossly miscalculated the amount of gas. Thinking that the crater would burn out in a few weeks, it has continued to burn over 40 years later. Locals have begun to call the crater the “Door to Hell,” and hundreds of tourists are attracted to the site every year.
The Karakum Desert is not a place accustomed to tourists; the village of Derweze averaged about 350 people who lived a largely nomadic lifestyle. In 2004, the President of Turkmenistan declared that the village was unpleasant for tourists and should be closed. Then, in 2010, the President became concerned about safety issues at the crater and ordered it be closed or filled. However, no actions have been taken and the fire in the Door to Hell continues to burn.
Currently there are efforts to increase tourism to the crater, as international attention is drawn to its magnificence. Melting rock and the potential for collapse do not deter visitors. Neither does the strong smell of sulfur in the air that can be evident up to a mile away.
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