Saturday, June 21, 2008

Calling Red Adair! And possibly International Rescue.

If you haven't already, go over to Google and search on something along the lines of 'door to hell gas fire.' There's more than enough keyword specificity in those five terms to get you there; and at least three pages (besides this one, now) show up in the first ten results, featuring what looks, at first sight, like nothing so much as the pit of hell itself.

From time to time something comes along which knocks you flat on your backside; you don't know whether to be impressed or appalled. I saw this yesterday, and was both:

[Looking at this, I was reminded forcibly of the scene in SCORPIO, where Jarrat and Stone are on the job in citybottom, Mostov, the old city under modern Thule, when the missiles fell in the wrong place. This is exactly what I described. At the time, I was halfway concerned that I was describing something so way out in left field, I'd strayed into the parking lot without realizing it. Turns out, something very like Mostov has been blazing for a long, long time...]

Photo Credit: haven't a clue. I obviously didn't capture these images ... they're popping up all over the web, so I'd like to thank the photographer, and would be delighted to put a credit on this, if only someone would tell me what!

The story goes that a company in Uzbekistn, in the region of a town called Darvaz, was drilling inside a mineshaft ... they might even have been drilling for gas. If so, they certainly got their wish, and a whole lot more. If they were hoping to find a source of natural gas that could be capped and exploited, they would have been thrilled -- for the .45 seconds they lived before the whole operation, mchinery, mine and all, fell into the pit. They had struck an unspeakably vast cavern full of gas that must have been right under the mine. When the whole operation caved in, there was the quite understandable fear that the gas would escape and poison the town, and -- perhaps not surprisingly -- someone high in the old Soviet chain of command decided the best, fastest, safest thing to do was ignite the gas, burn it off before it could kill people, in the same way natural gas used to be burned off at the waste stacks on oil platforms at sea, and oilfields on land.

Burning the gas probably seemed an excellent idea. In 1973.

But 35 years later, the fire is still burning, the gas supply seems limitless. And nobody, nowhere, ain't doing nothing about it.

In fact, as awesome as the fire itself is, more awesome still is the fact this inferno could be raging since the latter days of the Vietnam War, and it was only 'discovered' a couple of months ago, and even then it was publicized so narrowly that folks like myself just stumbled over the story by accident.

You want to know what a gas fire that size is doing to this planet's atmosphere? You have to ask how many more of these little jewels are hiding out there ... and why gas fires or oil fires, the size of this one in Uzbekistan, were not seen from space by the satellites that were scanning for Soviet missile sites. This one must have been seen. The US Air Force and NATO must have known about this inferno, because they had spy satellites over every square inch of the old Soviet Union.

Which leaves you with the question, why is it still burning?

I quite understand why it started: basic ignorance accounts for a lot of the apparent evil men do. (Who knows what stupidity lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows, but he can't get anyone to listen to a word he says.) Sure, the Soviets decided to torch the gas and save the town, and in 1973 it probably seemed like an OK thing to do. Bruce Lee was the smash hit at the box office that year, in ENTER THE DRAGON. Mick Jagger was a young man. Everybody was kung fu fighting, even though they had no idea what they were doing, and were mostly flailing around for the fun of it ... and it *was* fun; STARSKY AND HUTCH had never been dreamed of, the cameras wouldn't roll on it for another two years. Elvis wasn't due for his ultimate rendezvous with the aliens for another four years; the news was full of Richard Nixon and Watergate. American boots were still on the ground in Vietnam. STAR WARS was so far in the future, if you said 'R2D2' people thought you were commenting on their arty decor, and started babbling about their new curtains.

In 1973, nobody (well, not in Russia, anyway) would have bothered to ask, "Uh, how much gas d'you reckon there is down there, komrade? Just before we set it on fire. Y'know, just so's we can figure out how long she's, uh, likely to be burning." (Or if anyone did say that, he's still pushing a boulder up a mountainside. In Siberia.)

Many, many years ago (oddly enouh, back in the 70s, I believe), I read a statistic which rocked me. Two thirds of the world's supply of natural gas was thought to have been burned off as garbage, at the waste stacks on oil rigs and fields. Only later did we wake up to ourselves and realize natural gas is at least as important as oil to our future. Uh huh.

Fast-forward 35 years, and we're looking at such a crass waste of energy, I'd say I was speechless if I hadn't just written this column. We're also looking at such a source of atmospheric pollution, you'd be forgiven for saying, 'what's the use' and starting up the old car, with a gastank full of high-octane leaded and one cylinder out of eight not firing! Millions of us across the developed world take the train, and switch to green electricity and drag our own canvas bags to the grocery store, and meanwhile, they let monsters like the Darvaz hell-pit burn on. And on. And on. As I said, one understands how it got started. What's impossible to rationalize is why it's still burning, over thirty years after the aliens made off with Elvis.

(Don't get me started about the leaking Siberian oil pipelines, and the fact that the very ground beneath your feet in the arctic is flammable ... or about the real story behing bio-diesel fuels ...)

Cheers to all,


Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

They burned off gas at wellheads cus back then it wasn't profitable to the oil companies to bring it to market; bastards. They should have reinjected the gas to keep reservior pressure up and then there'd be all this gas for us to use and burn now to keep us dependant upon the oil companies for even longer: their shortsightedness cost them a lot of money now :)!

I almost puked when I read a site of a "world traveller" that said he/she wanted to go see it cus it looks so beautiful all lit up like that. Not a single mention did that person make about the enviro or the huge waste of gas, MORON! I guess that person is rich so probably doesn't care; what an asshole.

mivox said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of this until I saw the link on Alaskan Dave's blog. I'm writing a piece about this tomorrow. ^%$#& disgusting.


Mel Keegan said...

MIVOX -- that's a good word for it: digusting. It's not hard to understand how it got started ... but it's utterly beyond one's comprehension, how it could still be burning. By now, they must have burned off a large percentage of all the natural gas this poor old planet had to offer. [retching sound]

DAVE -- I think I saw that post by the world traveler dude. He needs his head examined ... unless he genuinely is so dumb, he can't grasp the environmental consequences. One born every minute, right?

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