WorldWide Drilling Resource

48 DECEMBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® Back in 2014, WWDR featured the Darvaza Crater in an article titled, Drilling to Hell: Urban Legends and the Strange Truth. Considering possible changes ahead, we revisit this unusual place and explore new developments about its future. According to legend, researchers in Turkmenistan drilled to hell in the 1970s. The gates opened and have been visibly burning ever since. This legend happens to be true, at least in part. Complete details of what actually happened are shrouded in Cold War-era secrecy, but the story has almost taken on a life of its own after being passed down for so long. Although the date is somewhat disputed, around the 1970s, a natural gas drilling operation in Turkmenistan had a surprising encounter when the entire operation plunged into a sinkhole. A burst of methane gas was unleashed, and burning it off seemed like a logical solution at the time. It was set ablaze under the expectation it would burn out in a few days. The flames persisted for weeks and eventually, decades. What started as an accident became an unlikely tourist attraction. Nicknamed, “The Gates of Hell,” the Darvaza Crater is a sight to behold according to those who have been there. Measuring approximately 230 feet wide and at least 100 feet deep, it lights up the Karakum Desert at night. George Kourounis, a photographer and researcher for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, has had the closest encounter of anyone. He is the only person to ever descend into the crater. In 2013, wearing an aluminized heat-protective suit, he rappelled down fire-resistant ropes and collected soil samples from the crater’s bottom. It was part of a research mission to find out about possible life forms in extreme environments. Surprisingly, the study revealed rare types of bacteria able to survive in this seemingly inhospitable setting. He measured the temperature at over 700°F (400°C) inside the crater. “It is like being on another planet. Imagine what looks like a volcano in the desert, but instead of churning lava, it is thousands of fires of this burning methane gas that’s been lit for five decades.” Kourounis also discussed a recent declaration by Turkmenistan’s president proclaiming he wants these flames to be extinguished. It’s not the first time officials have insisted they would put out the flames. Even so, Kourounis is “sort of waiting with baited breath to see if the president actually goes through with it this time.” He realizes they may want to put out the flames to access natural gas reserves below the crater. It would take considerable effort as “the act of snuffing out this fire would be extremely difficult and expensive,” Kourounis added. Knowing the uncertain fate of the Darvaza Crater, scientists seem to be taking every opportunity to explore the inferno while they still can. Robert Hird, an engineering geologist at the University of Cambridge decided to set up a tent a safe distance from the crater and camp out for a night. He said he spent most of the evening at the crater’s edge where the mesmerizing hiss of flames and hot air cut through the cold darkness. “The next day I would leave this amazing sight behind, and I wondered whether it would soon be extinguished. Turkmenistan, which has been declared to have the world’s second largest gas reserves, now has a growing group of international customers knocking on its door.” For now, “The Gates of Hell” crater remains open. “It’s just this - such a bizarre place . . . when you visit it, it is equal parts terrifying and beautiful,” said Kourounis. Photo of the Darvaza Crater courtesy of the University of Cambridge. “The Gates of Hell” Are Open for the Moment Compiled by Amy White, Associate Editor WorldWide Drilling Resource® Editor ’s Note: In between our print issues, the WWDR Team prepares an electronic newsletter called E-News Flash by WorldWide Drilling Resource®. This newsletter is filled with articles not included in our print issue. Based on readership, this was the most popular article of the month. Get in on the action andsubscribe today at: G&O For more information call: (270) 786-3010 or visit us online: All New!! Atlantis-Pro Vault • Traffic-Rated Capable • Simple installation • Trouble-free operation Groundwater Week Booth 685