Never Mind the SUVs and Electric Heaters; Put Out Darvaza First

I once read that in the Middle Ages, pools of oil seeped to the surface in Azerbaijan and caught fire. This created a natural version of the eternal flames that were kept burning in Zoroastrian temples (perhaps this is where Zoroaster got the idea?), and freaked out visitors to the region. Now I have have just seen a modern-day version of the same phenomenon on a gigantic scale, in a story at

Darvaz: The Door to Hell

This is the first time I’ve been to As a Russian history major, I enjoyed the pictures on the front page, and the video of a crash test done with a train. Vince and Larry, the famous crash dummies, aren’t on TV anymore, so if they’re still looking for work, now I know where to send them! also has good pictures of Darvaza, as well as a video. Unfortunately this webpage and others don’t agree on whether the place is in Turkmenistan, or Uzbekistan. If I go there, which country am I going to need a visa for? Let’s hope it’s just a case of faulty translating.

Anyway, it turns out that draining the Aral Sea, and exposing an entire ethnic group (the Karakalpaks) to toxic waste, were not the only ways the Soviet Union abused the environment in Central Asia. As the story goes, in 1971, a whole drilling rig fell into an underground cavern, and natural gas started seeping out; the gas was lit to burn it off before it killed everything and everybody. Thirty-seven years later, the gas is still burning, with no signs of the flame ever going out; the crater marking the site may be the closest thing to Hell on earth, a man-made lake of fire. No doubt it has wasted a big chunk of Central Asia’s potential wealth (Turkmenistan has what may be the largest natural gas deposits outside of the Middle East), and if there is any truth to what the environmentalists are saying about global warming, Darvaza has contributed more to it over thirty-seven years than most of us ever will. Heck, I think even Al Gore would have a hard time matching that “carbon footprint,” with his fuel-guzzling gulfstream jet!

And here is a blog with more pictures and videos:

Darvaza, the Apocalypse Gas Crater

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