The Interior Department is moving toward allowing studies in the Atlantic Ocean that could ultimately result in offshore drilling.
A programmatic environmental impact statement on seismic testing was released Wednesday.
The testing would be used to determine how much oil and natural gas is available and where the best places to drill would be, among other things.
The studies also help identify archaeological and geologic hazards to avoid. Companies would use the information to determine where to apply for energy leases.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he would make his ruling by the end of the year, following a series of public meetings from Delaware to Florida.