What is the "Gate of Hell", this burning pit that Turkmenistan wants to put out?

What is the “Gate of Hell”, this burning pit that Turkmenistan wants to put out?

The hole is only 30 meters deep, but it seems that it leads directly into the bowels of the earth. to me 260 km north of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is one of the most annoying tourist attractions in the world: a large crater burning with some Its diameter is 70 meters, in which the gas has been burning continuously for several decades. The authoritarian president of this reclusive Central Asian country, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, on Saturday, January 8, ordered the blazes that set fire to the giant gas crater nicknamed the Hell gate“, State television reported. Objective: To take advantage of these natural resources.

In light of these new statements, franceinfo has looked (well, not very closely) into this nightmarish phenomenon.

Modern “legend”

No one knows exactly why this crater was created in the middle of the Karakum Desert. This is the most acceptable account for him In 1971, Soviet scientists accidentally penetrated an underground gas pocket while excavating for sediments. The ground would have receded, creating the crater. Fearing the release of toxic gases, the authorities decided to set it on fire, believing that it would dry out the field within a few weeks, drastically reducing the amount of natural gas – especially methane – trapped in the ground. The pit has been burning for fifty years.

Canadian explorer George Corones, The first man to venture inside the hole, in 2013 – in a heat-resistant coat and dangling from a Kevlar belt – was delivered to National Geographic Another hypothesis. “What I heard from Turkmen geologists who have been there for decades, is that the collapse may have happened in the 1960s and that the crater had not been lit for years. 1980,” It is to explain. “I have no evidence to support these allegations. I don’t know what really happened and there is no written record.”Said the adventurer at the heart of a documentary.

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Few tourists would venture to Turkmenistan, the former Soviet Union that has become a totalitarian state, where dissidents are silenced and the media is controlled by the state. However, quite a few visitors do not fail to stick by thisHell gate. The location, particularly impressive, was highlighted by the president himself, who, as part of propaganda and building his image as the country’s tough guy, likes to do controlled sleds on the edge of a cliff (in 37 seconds in the video below).

environmental nightmare

To justify the fact that the fire was extinguished in this gas nozzle, President Gurbanguly Berdimokhamedov considered that the flames Negative impact on the environment and the health of neighboring residentsIf the nearest village, Darvasa, has only 350 inhabitants, the inconvenience is very real, explains Philippe Bousquet, a Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences (LSCE) researcher who specializes in methane.. “burning, The methane turns into carbon dioxide, but what harms the immediate environment is all that goes with it: there may also be sulfur and scented gases and aerosols that must also rise and that can be harmful to the people around it.” Explains to franceinfo.

Finally, from a climatic point of view this time around, the damage from Hell’s Gate is already limited by the fire. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” The climate world continues. So if you have a huge leak deposit, the ‘torch’ [le brûler] So that this methane becomes carbon dioxide remains “less bad” than letting it escape as it is, The specialist explains. It’s ‘less bad’, but it’s also not perfect: From a climate point of view, the best thing to do is leave natural gas in the ground and, no matter what, prevent it from doing so. To escape. But here, Turkmenistan’s goal is probably to put out the fires to recover natural gas so that it can be used, modernized and sold.”

According to the International Energy Agency, International Energy Agency (website in english), Also, Tokmanistan is the fifth largest exporter of methane gas in the world. It emits more than China with a population of only 6 million. Huge emissions have been detected partly due to leaks, like this This poll is Bloomberg (article in english) Posted in October. However, methane is more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming. Thus, the fight against their emissions is a huge lever in the fight against the declared rise in temperatures.

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Unexploited but polluting financial gain

“We are wasting valuable natural resources from which we can gain profits” And who can “To increase the welfare of our people”Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said on state television. Because Turkmens are already sitting on a very valuable natural gas reserve. In 2021 alone, it wasRussia doubled its gas imports from Turkmenistan. according to President of Turkmenistan, China imports about 40 billion cubic meters annually, but it may reach 100 billion cubic meters in the future.

Thus, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, To extinguish this deposit and – provided that this is possible – to develop it Natural gas, it would be like burning it as it is today. The difference is that it will be used at least to generate electricity. or heat”, Philip Bousquet deciphers. However, this natural gas remains a fossil fuel. How, when the Paris Agreement calls for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, can future exploitation of this reservoir be justified? ‘central’ modern Gas-fired gases emit about half of what a power plant does Normal coal. It always emits a lot and it would be better to use other energies that emit no or less, but let’s say, again, it’s “less bad”, Philip Bousquet identifies.

“The scientific community has estimated the maximum amount of CO2 equivalent we can release if we don’t want to go beyond the 2°C increase with a good chance, and we know we’ll have to leave a significant portion of the Earth’s available fossil resources if we want to achieve that. Unfortunately, it will continue to Some countries have been in the extraction and use of these resources for a long time for their development, such as coal or natural gas, which have very large quantities of them.” The specialist explains. “In Europe, we view natural gas as a transitional energy. It is clearly a greenhouse gas energy. Accepting concessions in these complex geopolitical systems allows us to move forward, slowly of course, but we have to move forward along the same lines.”, Climate scientist notes.

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