Advancing oil and gas development on federal lands while ensuring protection of the environment is a major challenge in the West, where decision makers must account for the sometimes competing provisions of multiple federal statutes and policies. In June 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed upon a collaborative approach to streamline the process of mitigating the environmental impact of oil and gas development on federally managed public lands.

Oil and gas development project approvals often were delayed because of differing agency protocols on such tasks as measuring air quality and granting permits. After participating in a two year effort, the federal agencies adopted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that establishes a common process for the agencies to follow in analyzing the potential air quality impacts of proposed oil and gas activities on federally managed public lands in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"Working with our federal partners, we are committed to delivering an environmental review process that is both transparent and comprehensive, supporting responsible domestic energy production on federal lands while ensuring environmental protection," said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler, Director of Programs at the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution noted, "The process of developing this MOU has been a great example of the power of collaboration and assisted negotiation to bring parties together to solve long-standing interagency challenges that involve apparently conflicting mandates and complex technical and scientific issues. The MOU and Draft Implementation Plan will have beneficial national economic and employment implications."

Differing approaches to the adequacy, staging and threshold conditions of air quality analyses resulted in project delays and conflicts among the agencies over impacts to air quality and air-quality-related values, such as visibility, proximity to sensitive populations, and exceedance of air quality standards, of oil and gas development on federal lands. In 2009, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Park Service (NPS), and the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service) decided to pursue a national collaborative process to resolve and prevent these conflicts and delays. The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, in coordination with the EPA's Conflict Prevention and Resolution Center, convened and facilitated initial meetings between the EPA and the BLM to identify the issues to be addressed in a mediation process and to select a facilitator for the ongoing mediation effort.

A mediation team from Kearns & West, a member of the U.S. Institute's National Roster of ECR Practitioners, was selected in February 2010 to facilitate the mediation and assist the agencies in the development of the MOU. The mediation team convened and facilitated a two-year federal negotiation team and technical workgroup process in which the agencies met to review their respective policies and procedures for air quality analysis and to forge points of agreement for joint air quality standards.

Now that the MOU has been signed, the mediation team will convene the agency implementation group and help them develop an outreach strategy with relevant industry, states, and nongovernmental organizations in the Rocky Mountain West.

Through the MOU, the participating federal agencies have agreed to act collaboratively to protect air quality and air-quality-related values and support the responsible development of oil and gas resources on federal lands. The MOU provides

  • Commitments by the agencies to collaborate throughout the NEPA process, including providing the lead agency with input and assistance early in the process on appropriate analyses and mitigation to address air quality and air quality related values;
  • Common procedures for determining which type of air quality analyses are appropriate and when air modeling is necessary;
  • Specific provisions for analyzing and discussing impacts to air-quality-related values and for mitigating such impacts;
  • A dispute resolution process to facilitate the timely resolution of differences among the signatories or their respective agencies.

For more information on the MOU, visit

To view the MOU, visit

Cherie P. Shanteau-Wheeler, Esq.

Director of Programs

Cherie Shanteau-Wheeler is the U.S. Institute lead on this project. She is the Director of Programs at the U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. Her responsibilities include oversight for programs, developing programs or issue areas, collaborative process management, training, and mediation and facilitation services. Her areas of subject matter expertise includes property and real estate law, environmental law, Superfund, Western public lands, wilderness issues, grazing and endangered species. She joined the U.S. Institute in June of 2001.

Prior to joining the U.S. Institute, Shanteau-Wheeler spent more than 17 years in private practice, including two and one-half years as in-house legal counsel and the Dispute Resolution Manager for a Fortune 500 company. She has successfully mediated numerous litigated and non-litigated matters, represented clients in mediation, and facilitated several large public disputes, including Utah BLM Wilderness designation, a temporary siting of a high-level radioactive waste facility, and complex watershed and riparian management issues.

Shanteau-Wheeler has served on the mediation panels of the American Arbitration Association, U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Utah, Utah State Courts Mediation Program and the U.S. Postal Service. She has taught mediation, negotiation, conflict resolution and communication skills to judges, lawyers, law students, and other individuals, corporations and organizations in the United States and Europe. Shanteau-Wheeler received a B.S. in Anthropology from the University of Utah and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law. She was admitted to the Utah State Bar in 1984. She is a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, and the Association for Psychological Type. She is qualified to administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ®.

Shanteau-Wheeler can be reached at