A giant fire pit in Turkmenistan has attracted increasing scrutiny from environmentalists and the country’s government for its contribution to climate change. The Darvaza fire pit, dubbed Turkmenistan’s “Gateway to Hell”, has been spewing methane into the atmosphere for about 50 years.
“As far as I understand, the fire pit formed during the Soviet era when the Soviet Union was trying to drill natural gas in the area,” said Stefan Green, director of the Facility Microbiology and Genomics at Rush University, America, said.
“At that time, drilling technology was not sophisticated enough. The rig collapsed, and the natural gas started escaping into the atmosphere instead of being trapped,” he added. After that, the crater burned, but it is not clear if it was intentional.
“If intentional, the idea is to let it burn off the gas instead of releasing it uncontrollably,” Green said.
The Darvaza fire pit, dubbed Turkmenistan’s “Gateway to Hell”, has been spewing methane into the atmosphere for about 50 years.
The Darvaza fire pit – 70 meters wide and 20 meters deep – has become a tourist attraction with thousands of visitors each year. In 2013, explorer George Kourounis, along with expert Stefan Green, became the first to reach the bottom of the fire pit.
“The first approach was pretty scary because, at least when I went, there was no railing and nothing to stop you from falling,” Mr Green said.
“The crater is really big and the edge is the hottest, except for the big fire near the center of the hole. At night it glows – it’s truly an amazing sight.”
In 2022, the president of Turkmenistan instructed officials to find a way to extinguish the famous fire pit and capture the escaping methane. According to the United Nations Environment Program, methane is a potent greenhouse gas that causes 80 times more global warming than carbon dioxide during the first 20 years in the atmosphere.
“The uncontrolled release of natural gas is an environmental disaster and burning it is actually better. In this way, methane is converted into carbon dioxide. The release of CO2 is also bad for global warming, but not as bad as methane,” Green said.
With a population of 6.3 million, fewer people live in Turkmenistan than in New York City. And yet, the country is one of the largest methane emitters in the world. Much of this is due to leaks from oil and gas production—known as “temporary emissions”—which amount to more than 70 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, according to Our World In Data.
“There are a lot of natural gas fields in Turkmenistan,” Green said.
“This is a major cause of methane leaks and the Darvaza crater is one such example… Anything we can do to help stop the release of greenhouse gases. These uncontrolled events are both extremely important from a global climate change perspective. “
A popular suggestion is to simply fill the fire crater. But Green thinks this is unlikely to solve the situation.
“You basically have a large gas leak,” he said. “Unless you can seal the leak, filling the crater won’t help, because the gas will still come out. I don’t think filling the crater will stop the leak. To do that, it may be necessary to drill some drills near the crater to suck the gas out of the crater.
Focusing entirely on filling the crater could also distract from the main reasons why Turkmenistan is a top methane emitter.
“These craters are really a small part of the whole story,” Green said. The primary methane release of natural gas from gas fields in Turkmenistan. These issues need to be addressed by every effort possible.”
Refer to Newsweek