The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Wednesday it is getting ready to open parts of the Atlantic coast to surveys that could lead to drilling for oil and natural gas, but the leading industry trade group said the plan does not do enough.

The announcement comes after the Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management spent the last 14 months studying the impacts associated with surveying the Atlantic for potential oil and natural gas development.

The surveys, known as resource assessments, will focus on the mid and southern part of the U.S. East Coast. The Department of the Interior released an impact statement, which is open for public comment starting Wednesday.

The assessments will be done to determine how much oil and natural gas is potentially recoverable off the Atlantic coast of the U.S. The assessments will focus on tracts of ocean stretching from Delaware to near Palm Bay in Florida.

The comments will be used to determine whether, and where, oil and natural gas leasing would be appropriate when the impact statement gets finalized, the DOI said.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest industry group and one of the more vocal energy groups critical of federal energy policy, applauded the announcement, but said it did not go far enough because it does not open coastal areas to drilling.

This is a conversation starter that has been more than three years in the making, but the path forward remains unclear, said Erik Milito, Upstream Director for the American Petroleum Institute, the country's largest oil industry group. Without an Atlantic coast lease sale in their five-year plan, the administration's wishful thinking on seismic research has no ultimate purpose, said Milito.

Permits for conducting seismic and geologic surveys for the assessment of oil and natural gas resources would likely be issued at the start of 2013.

As we move forward with the safe exploration and production of our domestic energy supply, this environmental analysis will help provide the critical information we need to make smart decisions in the Mid- and South Atlantic, said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

President Barack Obama has been criticized for his energy policy, with industry groups, and all of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates, claiming he has not done enough to tap into the country's energy deposits.

The API has called repeatedly on the White House to open up more federal lands for oil and natural gas development.

While most of the continental U.S. is state lands, not controlled by Washington, offshore drilling is under the purview of the federal government.

Currently, offshore drilling is concentrated in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic regions off Alaska.

So far, there are no plans for offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast through 2017, but Salazar suggested he is open to a new plan that includes the coast before the current 5-year development plan expires.

The proposal for ocean assessment is available here .

To comment on the proposal, write to ggeis@boem.gov.