Derweze (Persian:The Gate, also known as Darvaza) is a village in Turkmenistan of about 350 inhabitants, located in the middle of theKarakum Desert, about 260 km north from Ashgabat. Darvaza inhabitants are mostly Turkmen of the Teke tribe, preserving a semi-nomadic lifestyle. In 2004 the village was disbanded following the order of the President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, because “it was an unpleasant sight for tourists.” The Derweze area is rich in natural gas. While drilling in 1971, Soviet geologists tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig collapsed, leaving a large hole with a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft) at 40°15′10″N 58°26′22″E. To avoid poisonous gas discharge, it was decided the best solution was to burn it off. Geologists had hoped the fire would use all the fuel in a matter of days, but the gas is still burning today. Locals have dubbed the cavern “The Door to Hell”
The Door to Hell is a natural gas field in Derweze (also spelled Darvaza, meaning “gate”), Ahal Province, Turkmenistan. The Door to Hell is noted for its natural gas fire which has been burning continuously since it was lit by Soviet petrochemical scientists in 1971, fed by the rich natural gasdeposits in the area. The pungent smell of burning sulfur pervades the area for some distance.
The field is situated near the Derweze village. It is in the middle of the Karakum Desert, about 260 kilometres (160 mi) north from Ashgabat. The gas reserve found here is one of the largest in the world. The name, “Door to Hell”, was given to the field by the locals, referring to the fire, boiling mud and orange flames in Derweze’s large crater with a diameter of 70 metres (230 ft). The hot spots range over an area with a width of 60 metres (200 ft) and to a depth of about 20 metres (66 ft).
The site was identified by Soviet scientists in 1971. It was thought to be a substantial oil field site. The scientists set up a drilling rig and camp near by, and started drilling operations to assess the quantity of gas reserve available at the site. As the Soviets were pleased with the success of finding the gas resources, they started storing the gas. The ground beneath the drilling rig and camp collapsed into a wide crater and disappeared. No lives were lost in the incident. However, large quantities of methane gas were released, creating an environmental problem and posing a potential danger to the people of the nearby villages.
Fearing the release of further poisonous gases from the cavern, the scientists decided to burn it off. They thought that it would be safer to burn it than to extract it from underground through expensive methods. Environmentally, gas firing is the next best solution when the circumstances are such that it cannot be extracted for use. Methane gas released into the atmosphere is also a dangerous greenhouse gas whose potential for global warming is much higher than that of the carbon dioxide created when it burns. At that time, expectations were that the gas would burn within days, but it is still burning, four decades after it was set on fire.
Effects on future development of gas
In April 2010, the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site and ordered that the hole should be closed, or measures be taken to limit its influence on the development of other natural gas fields in the area. Turkmenistan plans to increase its production of natural gas, intending to increase its export of gas to China, India, Iran, Russia, and Western Europe from its present level to 75 million cubic metre in the next 20 years. As of 2013, the hole is still burning.