This week’s announcement that 13 oil companies can resume activity in the Gulf of Mexico provided some hope the Obama administration might finally begin to approve drilling new permits. It couldn’t come soon enough.

Since the administration’s drilling moratorium was lifted in October, deep-water permit issuance is down 88 percent with only two new permits in that time. It’s only slightly better for shallow-water permits, which weren’t subjected to the moratorium, but are still down 11 percent.

The Gulf Permit Index, produced by GNO, Inc., in Louisiana, monitors the number of drilling permits being issued by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE).

The agency announced Monday that 13 oil companies “may resume previously approved exploration and production activities without submitting revised plans.”

Gregory Rusovich, chairman of the Business Council of Greater New Orleans and the River Region, said it’s a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough:

“We’re pleased that BOEMRE has stated that it is doing away with unnecessary hindrances. But we still are not seeing improvements in the number of deep-water permits being approved on a monthly basis. Without changes to the permitting process, we still face an uphill battle. And we will continue to track BOEMRE’s actions as opposed to its words.”

Investor’s Business Daily reports that “regulators have made it nearly impossible for oil firms to restart operations and have slapped strict new rules on drilling even in shallow waters.” Former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, told CNN that “the moratorium is now lifted in name only,” warning that “the less we drill in the Gulf of Mexico the more dependent we become on crude oil from other countries.”

“The federal government has estimated that U.S. offshore oil production could drop 13% in 2011 because of regulatory delays and other new rules being put in place,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “Before the BP oil spill, offshore production this year was projected to increase by 6%.”

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