By John Ikani
Turkmenistan’s leader has ordered experts to find a way to finally extinguish a massive five-decade old fire in a giant natural gas crater in the Central Asian country, dubbed the “Gateway to Hell”.
Citing environmental and economic concerns, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov appeared on state television on Saturday telling officials to put out the flames at the Darvaza gas crater in the middle of the vast Karakum desert.
“We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people,” the President said in televised remarks.
He instructed officials to “find a solution to extinguish the fire.”
The crater is believed to have been created in 1971 during a Soviet drilling accident that hit a gas cavern, causing the drilling rig to fall in and the earth to collapse underneath it.
To prevent the dangerous fumes from spreading, the Soviets decided to burn off the gas by setting it on fire.
But Canadian explorer, George Kourounis examined the crater’s depths in 2013 and discovered that no-one actually knows how it started.
According to local Turkmen geologists, the huge crater formed in the 1960s but was only lit in the 1980s.
The pit has been ablaze ever since and previous attempts -including in 2010 when Mr Berdymukhamedov also ordered experts to find a way to put out the flames – have been unsuccessful.
The resulting crater — 70 metres (229 feet) wide and 20 metres (65 feet) deep — is a popular tourist attraction in the ex-Soviet country.
In 2018, the President officially renamed it the Shining of Karakum.