Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov wants to turn off the gas that's been burning for decades in what might be both the Central Asian country's worst environmental disaster and one of its leading tourism attractions.
The so-called "Gates of Hell," officially the Darvaza gas crater, is a 200-foot wide and 70-foot deep crater where natural gas coming up from underground has been burning for many years. Its history is murky; it's usually been described as the result of a Soviet-era drilling accident in 1971, with the fire lit to try to burn off the gas. But other sources say the crater is ten years older, and not ignited until the 1980s.
Berdymukhamedov says the crater "negatively affects both the environment and the health of the people living nearby. We are losing valuable natural resources for which we could get significant profits and use them for improving the well-being of our people." It would be a second try; he ordered it shut down in 2010 but the attempt was unsuccessful.
A Canadian scientist in a heat-resistant suit made it to the bottom of the crater in 2013; he told reporters at that time that it "felt like being on another planet," describing the scene as "The walls are lit up. Everything is glowing orange from the fire. There's poisonous gas everywhere."