Home Gas effect Why closing the ‘gates of hell’ in Turkmenistan is good for the environment

Why closing the ‘gates of hell’ in Turkmenistan is good for the environment


Turkmenistan plans to close its infamous “gates of hell”. The President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had ordered the authorities to find a solution to put out the fire that has been burning for decades in the middle of the desert.

Darvaza Crater, or the “Gates of Hell” as they are called, is located in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260 km north of the country’s capital, Ashgabat. The crater is 69m wide and 30m deep, with fires raging since the 1970s-1980s.

Who lit the fire?

Although many believe the crater was formed as a result of Soviet drilling experiments gone wrong, no specific evidence has been found to indicate that the theory is true. What is known is that Turkmen geologists claim that the crater formed in the 1960s but only caught fire in the 1980s.

The crater is on fire due to the presence of natural gas constantly flowing into the crater, keeping the fire going. Natural gas is a predominant resource in the country, with Turkmenistan having the sixth or fourth largest reserves of natural gas in the world, varying according to estimates.

Berdymukhamedov called the crater man-made and said the presence of the fire endangers other reserves nearby and also compromises the safety of people near the area. The President also stated the negative environmental and health effects of the massive amount of natural gas being burned in the open air.

“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could obtain significant profits and use them to improve the well-being of our people,” he said in a televised address.

Environmental impact

For the environment, the closure of the Darvaza Gas Crater will be a welcome relief. The crater is known to leak methane, an important component of natural gas. But a fairly large part of the gas can escape without igniting.

Methane is known to be about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of greenhouse effect. But this effect is shorter, because methane naturally degrades in the atmosphere.

Turkmenistan is already one of the biggest emitters of methane in the world, just behind Russia, the United States, Iran and Iraq, according to the International Energy Agency. Closing the gas crater will reduce the Central Asian nation’s methane emissions to some extent.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)