Turkmenistan wants to close the “gate to hell”

The flames have been blazing because of a misjudgment in exploratory drilling for gas since 1971. In the meantime, the phenomenon should attract tourists, but this strategy is about to end.

For some it is the “gateway to hell“, for others a tremendous natural phenomenon: At the Derweze crater about 270 kilometers north of the Turkmen capital Ashkhabad, eternal flames have been blazing for 50 years. deleted – not for the first time.

Turkmenistan’s ruler Gurbanguli Berdimuchamedow called on his officials in a speech broadcast on state television on Saturday to find technical solutions to extinguish the flames. The burning gas is harmful to the environment and the health of people living nearby, the president said. In 2018 he had already officially renamed the “Gate to Hell” to “The Shine of Karakum”, after having unsuccessfully ordered the end of the spectacle in the desert in 2010.

The Karakum Desert (literally: black sand) covers 80 percent of the Central Asian Republic. In summer the temperatures rise to more than 50 degrees Celsius, in winter they drop to minus 20 degrees. There are no signs pointing to the Derweze crater, which is around 20 meters deep and 70 meters wide, only local guides know the way.

The crater has a diameter of 60 meters and is 20 meters deep.WHAT/AFP/IGOR SASIN

A test drilling with effects to this day

The natural spectacle was created by a miscalculation by scientists. Soviet geologists began exploratory drilling at this point in 1971, but they drilled into an underground gas cavity, whereupon a deep funnel formed. The drilling platform collapsed, workers were not harmed at the time.

For safety reasons, the experts decided at the time to ignite the escaping gas. It was hoped the gas would burn out quickly and the flames would die. But instead they lit an “eternal” fire – an impressive symbol for Turkmenistan enormous gas reserves, the fourth largest in the world.

Tourists are looking for the “gateway to hell”

In recent years, the Derweze crater has increasingly become a magnet for tourists, of whom there are more and more in Turkmenistan – but not too many. International interest in the “Gate to Hell” grew. But at the same time the burning gas was seen as a waste of resources that could actually be sold for a profit.

Last year, the government designated a 90,000 hectare state reserve in the Karakum Desert, which also includes the Derweze crater. According to the tourism authority, travelers have been able to go on safari in jeeps and quad bikes or ride camels along the shifting dunes in recent years. But for this to happen, roads would first have to be improved and hotels built.

Incidentally, Turkmenistan is the country where the coronavirus has never officially arrived and yet all citizens over the age of 18 are required to be vaccinated.

Especially in the dark, the & quot; glow of Karakum & quot;  his spectacle.
Especially in the dark, the “glow of Karakum” reveals its spectacle.imago / imagebroker

(APA/AFP/Ed.)

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