When Claudius Bombarnac, Jules Verne's imaginary hero in The Adventures of a Special Correspondent, arrives at the Absheron peninsula on the shores of the Caspian he is appalled by the pollution. And he is intrigued by the bare and arid soil. Only one plant survives in this parched land: the wormwood with its bitter greyishgreen leaves from which absinthe is made. Bombarnac is more positive about the naphtha that seeps out of the ground:
"A marvellous phenomenon indeed! Do you want a light or a fire? Nothing can be simpler; make a hole in the ground, the gas escapes, and you apply a match. That is a natural gasometer within reach of all purses."
Jules Verne died a hundred years ago, and the landscape of the Absheron peninsula has scarcely improved in the intervening century.