ASHGABAT (Reuters) - Turkmenistan’s quest to triple its already copious gas reserves has a fiery new focus: a flaming pit in the middle of the Karakum Desert.
A gaping crater dubbed “Hell’s Gate” has been spewing flames and smoldering in a remote part of the isolated Central Asian nation since a Soviet-era drilling accident nearly 40 years ago.
It has attracted some of the few foreign tourists who travel to Turkmenistan -- and hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube videos such as here .
Now it has caught the eye of President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. He visited the crater this week and ordered local authorities to look for ways to get rid of it or ensure it would not hinder the development of nearby gas fields, state television in the tightly controlled nation reported.
Berdymukhamedov said that “existing anomalies have hindered the accelerated industrial development of the subsoil riches of central Karakum,” according to the report.
The crater, about 60 meters (yards) wide and 20 meters deep, appeared in 1971 when the ground caved under a drilling rig and exposed a methane-choked cave. Soviet geologists decided to burn off the gas and it has been burning ever since.
Turkmenistan, which produced about 75 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year, wants to triple output in the next 20 years to boost export revenues and expand sales beyond Russia, China and Iran to Western Europe, India and Pakistan.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov, editing by Paul Casciato