What is the Gates of Hell Crater?


Calista Freeland, Writer/Editor

Fire eventually goes out, right? Not when the accelerant is natural poisonous fumes caused by a Soviet drilling rig accident. This crater caused by the accident, known as “The Gates of Hell” is located in the desert of Turkmenistan near a village named Darvaza and has been burning since 1971 (though it was created in the 1960s).  Understandably, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan, recently ordered authorities to discover a way to extinguish the flames.darwaza-crater-gate-of-hell-shutterstock

So how did this 230-feet-wide flaming crater form? Well, as mentioned previously, Soviet scientists were drilling for natural gas and hit a natural gas pocket. This caused the ground to cave in and formed three sinkholes, which the natural gas emerges from. This gas is poisonous, and particularly dangerous because it is odorless. Unfortunately, a local shepherd accidentally slept nearby the crater and died, without knowing that the crater was releasing poisonous gases. This emphasized the danger of the situation, so Soviet scientists quickly rushed to come up with a resolution. To prevent future accidents, they set one of these craters on fire, creating what is now known as “The Gates of Hell” or the Darvaza gas crater. It was believed at the time that the flames would burn off the gas and that the fire would eventually extinguish. However, this obviously was not the case, since it has been burning for over 50 years.

The Turkmenistan government largely ignored the crater’s tourist appeal up until 2017, seeing it as an embarrassment and a stain on the country’s history. In fact, in 2010, Berdymukhamedov ordered the site to be closed and the fires extinguished. However, in 2013, the president announced that the part of the desert it is located in would become a national reserve. In 2018, it was named the “Shining of Karakum” by Berdymukhamedov. It was even featured in their Asian Games Opening Ceremony and was opened to the public as a tourist attraction.

The president seems to have had a change of heart in recent months, ordering in January of 2022 that authorities need to find a way to put out the famous flames. This is due to the environmental issues that the crater causes, contributing to global warming. Turkmenistan is known for its extreme methane emissions, only behind significantly bigger countries such as Russia, the United States, Iran, and Iraq. The gas that the crater emits is methane, which compared to the infamous carbon dioxide emissions, is 80 times more powerful in effecting global warming-just for a lesser time as unlike carbon dioxide, it naturally breaks down in the atmosphere

Turkmenistan: Shortness of death | Eurasianet