Trying to close “The Gates of Hell”

After fifty years of continuous burning, Turkmenistan officials are finally trying to close up a 230-feet wide fiery sinkhole in the Karakum Desert known hyperbolically — but only somewhat — as the “Gates of Hell.”

No one is entirely sure how the hellish pit, located about 150 miles north of the Central Asian country’s capital, started burning, according to Metro…

The rumor is that Soviet operatives went looking for natural gas deposits and found the sinkhole, which would have been filled with dangerous gas. As the theory goes, they set it on fire, thinking it would burn out pretty quickly — but couldn’t have been more wrong…

If Turkmenistan can actually figure out how to put out the half-century old fire, the US might actually be able to learn a thing or two. Turns out we have some long-term fires here, including the Centralia fire in Pennsylvania. According to, Centralia was a booming coal town about a century ago. But it was mostly abandoned after the town accidentally set an underground coal seam on fire in 1962, and it’s been burning ever since…

Give a deeper meaning to the usual explosives warning… “Fire in the hole!”

Russian gas pipeline through Central Asia goes onstream to China

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

With the turn of a ceremonial valve, China’s president, Hu Jintao, opened a big natural gas pipeline from central Asia to China on Monday, significantly increasing China’s access to the fuel and providing the first major alternative to exporting the region’s gas through Russia.

The ambitious project runs 1,140 miles across three Central Asian nations to the Chinese border, linking Turkmenistan to the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Once inside China, it connects with a pipeline that can carry the fuel even farther east.

Though helpful to energy-parched China, the project siphons potential supplies from the long-delayed pipeline that the European Union would like to see built from Turkey to Central Europe. Such a project could also tap sources of natural gas in Turkmenistan, a stark illustration of the overlapping energy interests at play in the region.

For the China pipeline, Turkmenistan says it can supply 40 billion cubic meters of gas for 30 years once the line reaches full capacity, reported China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. That is about the equivalent of half of China’s current consumption of natural gas.

The pipeline is the first major export corridor for natural gas out of the region that does not pass through Russia. It breaks from the Soviet-era design of a pipeline system built to supply Eastern Europe via Russia to the north of Central Asia. The new pipe revives a pre-Soviet view of trade in the region, in which economic exchanges flow east and west, not just through Russia.

No doubt highest priority will be given to industrial use of this resource. China, after all, is a nation in the business of growing business.

But, as conditions change, this pipeline and others like it will allow for an end to a significant portion of China’s smog. 50% of that smog comes from coal-fired home cooking and heating fires. Just about the worst form of combustion for human use on the planet.

I’ve been through that particular environmental change in my youth. It can be astounding.