The village of Balakhany stands out among many villages on Absheron Peninsula. BalakhanyвЂ™s native population is descended from Iranian emigrants, who settled here in the Middle Ages. The village is famous for its oil. Since the 10th century people have dug shallow wells 19-12 meters deep, on the peninsula to extract oil. By the beginning of the 17th century, around 500 wells had been dug in the villages of Absheron, including Balakhany. A stone found in a 35m-deep well in Balakhany testifies that the well was dug in 1594 by Allahyar Mammadnur oglu.
The mud volcano Bokhbokha is located on the outskirts of the village. Bokhbokha is a mud mini-volcano, up to 3 meters high, with вЂ�cratersвЂ™ which are usually no more than 50cm deep.
The head of the department of mud volcanoes at the Institute of Geology under the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences, Adil Aliyev, a doctor of geological sciences, says that Bokhbokh volcano had been dormant for 200 years. A Military unit was stationed at the mud volcano during the Soviet era (from the 1950s to the end of the 1970s).
There is an excellent view of the area, which borders Lake Boyuk Shor, from this height. The volcanoвЂ™s crater has been вЂ�pluggedвЂ™ by a peculiar concrete вЂ�tripodвЂ™ - the only thing that remains from the military unit. Just below this tripod a spring with gushing water is located. Old people claim that this water possesses medicinal properties and in particular cures scabies, and they call this place вЂ�gotroвЂ™.
As was mentioned, most of BalakhanyвЂ™s inhabitants are descended from emigrants from Iran in the Middle Ages, and preserved the language of their ancestors in their environment. The word вЂ�gotrвЂ™ means scabies and the letter вЂ�oвЂ™ means water. Both words in conjunction form В"gotroВ", which means В"water from scabiesВ". This water comes from a shallow cavity (approximately 30 cm), and does not dry up as long as it is used. Older people say that the source existed at the beginning of the 20th century, and even at that time they were aware of its medicinal properties.
The volcanoвЂ™s surface is covered with gray volcano mud. It is impossible to reach the surface in rainy weather. Since the mid 19080s, people have started constructing buildings. School No.259 was constructed there, and gradually residential buildings appeared. Construction still continues. Bokhbokh is surrounded on three sides by new buildings, which is dangerous. One interviewee, who wished to remain anonymous, said that after the commissioning of school No.259, the smell of gas was noticed because of its closeness to the volcano. A gas leakage was prevented. But this is not the only threat facing the people of Balakhany.
About three thousand derelict oil wells are concentrated on the Absheron peninsula, and oil covers a total area of more than 35,000sq.m. Almost 150 years of oil exploration have turned Baku villages, including Balakhany, into a real ecological disaster. The economic achievements of oil industry in most cases during the Soviet period were due to the prejudice of social interests. The development of oil and gas fields was accompanied with air pollution and the discharge of harmful substances into the water and soil. Soil saturated with oil became barren.
Baku and its outskirts are populated with displaced people from Azerbaijani territories, which were occupied by Armenia. Balakhany in this context was not alone. People started building houses along the road, leading from Zabrat settlement to Balakhany. When passing through Balakhany people used to see scorched earth stained with black oil and oil drilling plants. Now, the road is lined with residential houses, constructed by refugees, some of them very close to the drilling machinery. The drilling plantsвЂ™ waste ground will also be located along the road. A considerable amount of oil waste has accumulated in sewerage tanks.
It is worth pointing out that people lived on this section of the road until 1970. After that they smelt gas in their houses, they gave the alarm and the government resettled them to different parts of the city in Baku. The houses were destroyed and natural gas wells were cemented. However, refugees are now constructing houses in the same spot.
One should note that most villages are concentrated in the place of old oil wells. And most houses were constructed in the first half of the 20th century. Ahmadova Rahima (aged 80) says there are about seven wells in the yard of the house she has lived in for more than 60 years. One of them was used as a rubbish tip for years, until it became full. вЂњPeople get used to the fact that they live on old oil wells, where their ancestors lived before. Due to the lack of land, they built houses in these places. Many new neighbors constructed houses near old disused drilling plants, which were derelict.вЂќ There are about seven wells in her yard one of these wells is completely filled with garbage. вЂњWhen I was young, I was afraid that my children would fall into the well, so I threw everything into it to fill it up. Only after many years it is eventually filled,вЂќ she said.
With no sewerage system or rubbish dump, the locals use the old wells for these purposes. The land is barren here, as it is polluted by oil. In order to grow anything, it is necessary to fill these wells with soil. When the roots of trees reach the oil level, they stop growing and dry out. It is not difficult to guess what can be found in the composition of fruit and vegetables. But there are livestock and poultry in this area too. Derelict oil wells are located in the houses of many citizens. The foundations of parts of houses are located on wells, which are subsiding. This causes imminent hazard of collapse.
Local man Akif (aged 45), who kindly showed me the location of Bokhbakh volcano, described how oil had come up through the ground in the yards of some houses. "The house where I was born and lived is constructed near an oil well. My brother Arif currently lives there, and one corner of the house has subsided and the floor has sunk slightly. And this is where the oil well was located,вЂќ he noted.
Several years ago the local TV channel ANS broadcast a report showing oil appearing in Balakhany from the one of the old oil wells. This place is on Sefevid Street, and now people passing near this place can see the wellвЂ™s mouth, where oil was streaming previously, and now it is filled with garbage. This is not the only instance of oil and, even more dangerously, gas is emitted from an old oil well. According to statements of from old inhabitants, there have been many similar cases. Crude oil, highly mineralized by chlorine salt and mercaptan, has caused the local gas and oil pipeline to corrode badly.
Naturally, such a situation affects the health of BalakhanyвЂ™s inhabitants, and in particula their has been an increase in cancer cases. Crude oil contains elements which are dangerous for human health. Carbon oxides and dioxides, sulphur and nitrogen, paraffin hydrocarbon and sulphur compounds are all harmful to humans. According to the register of cancer diseases at the local clinic, 41 people were registered in the village (19 women and 22 men) with similar diagnoses between 1999 and 2004. 41 people (20 men and 21 women) out of 301 people died of cancer in Balakhany over the last five years.
This statistic is alarming and the situation should be assessed by specialists. But it is clear that this is an ecological bomb of delayed action.