Digital journalist and web editor Jessica Farris created Breaking Ground as her master’s thesis project after she first saw a khaki-colored tank with the words “crude oil” painted on its side across the street from her apartment in Adams County in Colorado. She discovered that the tank was designed to hold crude oil following the hydraulic fracturing process. Suddenly, she began noticing these tanks everywhere. Delving further into the issue, she discovered that Weld County, only five miles north of where she lived, was home to more than 21,000 active oil and gas wells—95 percent of which had been fracked. Curious about the safety of the process, she set out to determine what the ramifications of irresponsible hydraulic fracturing might be and how Colorado mitigates the risk of environmental catastrophe. As she explored, she began documenting the stories of Weld County farmers, ranchers and landowners who have oil and gas wells on their properties. She documented the ways the industry has impacted these farmers, their perspectives on the industry and their concerns about the proximity of oil and gas to their homes.

Applying her knowledge of digital media to the project, she built an informational website telling the stories of these farmers and ranchers to make the information publicly available. Because many people have migrated to smartphones and tablets, she considered it crucial that the web design be responsive—viewable on any device.