The Earth is a surprising place

We think that we know the surface of the Earth pretty well but it continues to surprise me. Xeni Jardin describes a gas crater in Turkmenistan that has been burning for over forty years.


It came into being in 1971 when the ground under a drilling rig used by geologists from the Soviet Union collapsed, revealing a cavern filled with natural gas. The geologists thought that it would be safest to set the gas on fire to prevent poisonous gases from spewing into the atmosphere. And it is still burning, drawing visitors to the site known to the locals as “The Door to Hell”.

Jardin links to a site where you can see more photos.


  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Some good videos to, here.

    Wouldn’t it more useful to harness that gas? Maybe build a small powerplant there? I know it’s cool looking, but it seems like a waste to just let it burn.

  2. Mano Singham says

    That was my initial reaction too but I suspect that there must be a reason for not doing so. Maybe the ground is too weak to support a structure.

  3. Trebuchet says

    I’m pretty sure there are underground coal mines that have been burning even longer but they sure wouldn’t look as awesome!

  4. coragyps says

    I would think that if a drilling rig collapsed into the hole there was no pipe cemented into the hole, so that there is no easy way to contain the gas at all – it is likely percolating up through rock around the hole that was drilled. With a little technology and a considerable amount of money, it might be possible to drill a new well nearby to intersect the existing hole and plug it, or at least capture the gas.

    But that would have worked better in 1971 that after 43 years of gas finding paths to take to the surface.

    There was (or still is) a similar crater made from a mismanaged oil well near Ouargla, Algeria. Twenty-plus years ago, when I was asked to help find ways to “fix” it, it was 3 km deep, 800 meters wide, and flowing saturated salt water at about 50 Celsius into the aquifer that supplies drinking water in the area. Not a Good Thing.

  5. lorn says

    A few lengths of wire rope and you could march goats up to the hole on one side and pull BBQ off the other.

  6. Mano Singham says


    Wow, I had no idea that there were so many uncontrollable coal mine fires around the globe causing so much pollution. I am shocked that this problem does not get any attention.

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