The Burning Crater Of Turkmenistan

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

Many places on Earth feel a little bit otherworldly, and the Darvaza Crater in Turkmenistan is one of them. The giant burning pit in the middle of the desert hides a fascinating story of how it came to be there and what role humans played in the process. Turns out digging in the wrong place can get you in a lot of trouble!

A Hole In The Ground

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

The Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan is home to a peculiar sight. A crater the size of a football field has been burning there for over four decades. It has become one of the tourist attractions of the region, drawing in hundreds of tourists each year. But the locals feel different about it and they have a good reason.

The Burning Hole

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

The local community sees the Darvaza Crater as a bad omen and they try to stay away from it as much as possible. They are not very happy about the fact that the site is now one of the most visited places in the country. There are things the tourists should know about the burning hole. Is the crater really a bad place of unnatural origin?

Unnatural Origins

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Image Credit: Getty Images

Craters are usually caused by celestial bodies hitting Earth or volcanoes erupting. Neither happened in the Karakum Desert, however. The Darvaza Crater had a much more human nature, and it only appeared because of the intervention of people. Someone made a big mistake.

The Oil Craze

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Image Credit: Getty Images

In 1971, Soviet geologists went to the Karakum desert on a mission. To find oil! They were looking everywhere for the liquid black gold and were willing to do anything to get to it. At the site of today's crater, they seemed to have struck gold. But things would not turn out so good.

The Human Mistake

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Image Credit: Getty Images

The Soviet geologists were convinced they stumbled upon an oil field. Naturally, they started drilling immediately, hoping to begin pumping very soon. But nature had different ideas. The drillers were about to get one big surprise.

Sitting On A Gas Reserve

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Image Credit: Getty Images

It turns out that the geologists were not sitting on top of an oil reserve, but a natural gas one. Of course, before they had time to react to the news, it was too late. The pocket of gas below them was not stable, and the whole operation, along with the equipment, was in jeopardy. Then the worst-case scenario happened.

Disaster Strikes

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Image Credit: Getty Images

The site the drillers were sitting on suddenly collapsed, and all the equipment was gone. The sedimentary desert rock began crumbling in many other places surrounding the main crater, and the area was now dotted with craters. The craters would become problematic very quickly.

The Massive Crater

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Image Credit: Getty Images

The largest crater created by the gas disaster measures around 230-feet across and is over 65-feet deep. It was highly unnatural for the soil to collapse like this, and in this region, it meant a terrible chain reaction. The gas was supposed to stay in the earth.

Gas Begins To Escape

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Image Credit: Getty Images

Natural gas is not meant to be extracted from the ground. Even though it does not have toxic properties, it consists of methane, which depletes oxygen. That can make it breathing quite the challenge. The animals would be the first ones to suffer the effects.

The Incident Takes Toll

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Image Credit: Getty Images

Very shortly after the land collapsed due to the gas pocket, animals began to perish in the area. There was simply not enough oxygen for them to breathe. Not to mention that natural gas is highly flammable, and a high concentration of it can lead to a serious explosion. Something had to be done to contain the dangers.

Coming Up With Solutions

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Image Credit: Getty Images

Scientists put their heads together, and what they came up with is that they would set the crater on fire voluntarily, hoping the fire would extinguish itself in a few weeks. The gas should be depleted by that time as well, so all seemed perfectly well planned. But did they know what they were doing?

The Flaring Process

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Image Credit: Getty Images

What the scientists suggested is called the flaring technique. This is a process used to get rid of natural gas, which can not be stored in tanks and needs to be processed immediately. It seemed like it could work, and the whole disaster would be forgotten in no time. The scientists didn’t realize what they were dealing with, though.

Unknown Dangers

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Image Credit: Getty Images

What the scientists didn’t know was that the amount of natural gas they were dealing with was much larger than could have been expected. Not only that, but they had no way of measuring exactly just how much of it was in the crater before they set it to burn. They unknowingly fed a monster.

Bonfire For Decades

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

Everyone thought the crater, once lit, would burn for a few weeks at most. The Darvaza crater has now been ablaze for almost five decades, and no sign is showing that the fire will ever stop burning. Would the authorities order the site to be examined again, or would they leave it alone for years to come?

The Fate of The Carter

Image Credit: Getty Images

Image Credit: Getty Images

Turkmenistan’s government is worried about the effects the crater might have on the natural reserves of the country. Orders have been given to deal with the burning pit issue, but since 2010, no action has been taken. The crater continues to burn, the tourists continue to come, and the air is still difficult to breathe.

The story of the Darvaza Crater is a poignant one. It shows us that humans need to be respectful and aware of nature, or else disasters can strike, lasting for decades. Some things are better left untouched, and natural gas is certainly one dangerous reserve of this planet which requires a lot of expertise to be dealt with. 

Sources: GeneronHuffington PostBusiness InsiderAtlas ObscuraThe GuardianUnusual Traveller

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