A Blazing Pit in the Middle of Nowhere

  • by Jenny Bahn

In Ahal Province, Turkmenistan, a pit blazes eternal. It is, most appropriately, called “The Door to Hell.”

Of course it wasn’t always this way. In 1971, Soviet engineers discovered the site, which was suspected to be rich with oil. And it was. The Soviets began extracting and storing the gas on site until the ground beneath the drilling camp gave way, swallowing the drilling rig and its surrounding areas whole. Oops.

As a result of the collapse, tons of methane gas was released into the atmosphere, posing an immediate health threat to the local population, as well as wider environmental consequences. In some ill-researched logic following the collapse, geologists, thinking there wasn’t much methane to get rid of, decided that it would be cheaper and safer to burn off the excess methane as opposed to extracting it, which is more complicated, more expensive, and more time consuming.

Well, someone didn’t really do the math before they lit the match on this pit. Apparently the methane reserves were much higher than anticipated, and when it was first ignited, it erupted into flames and never stopped burning. Forty years later, it still sparks and smolders like a scene out of Mad Max.

If you’ve already checked the Marfa Lights off your bucket list, you should probably head here next.

Photos courtesy of Martin Stoev.


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