Pharos-Tribune

Columns

January 31, 2014

PETERS: The fires that just won't stop burning

I’ve written here before about the problem of unwanted fires burning in coal deposits. Above and below ground, coal fires are a problem in both developed and developing nations. If we are serious about reducing our carbon dioxide emissions, we should address the unwanted fires burning around the world.

Unwanted coal fires are not a huge slice of the carbon dioxide pie, but putting them out is one way we could decrease the emission of greenhouse gases without putting a damper on economic growth. And if we addressed coal fires where they can be extinguished, we could help clean up local air quality, as well.

I’ve seen photos from India of blazes with flames reaching more than 20 feet into the sky. China also has many fires burning in its coalfields. But the problem isn’t just limited to the developing world. Here in the U.S. we have coal fires burning in places as varied as Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Now I’ve learned that unwanted natural gas fires can also be a long-term problem. Sometimes gas fires burn themselves out quickly, but in at least one place in the world that hasn’t been the case at all. The story merited a place recently in England’s Daily Mail.

The Karakum Desert lies in central Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan, you might recall, is in central Asia, just east of the Caspian Sea. There’s a great deal of natural gas in Turkmenistan — the Karakum Desert has one of the larger natural gas reserves to be found anywhere.

In 1971 Soviet geologists and engineers were exploring in the Karakum Desert for oil and natural gas. Part of the exploration effort, of course, was setting up drilling rigs and penetrating the ground. Quite unexpectedly, the earth underneath one drilling rig collapsed, creating a crater.

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