Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the approval given to Houston-based Noble was to allow it resume working on a well the company had already drilled to more than 13,000 feet when the moratorium was put in place, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Monday.
Obama lifted the moratorium on deep-water drilling in the gulf in October.
Noble's Santiago well is less than 20 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling BP's ill-fated Macondo project, the newspaper said.
Bromwich said he expects his agency to issue more approvals in the coming weeks, all for wells that had been begun before the Deepwater Horizon accident that produced the biggest offshore oil leak in history.
"We are taking these applications to drill as they come," Bromwich said, noting that seven permits are pending for deep-water drilling in the gulf.
"Industry has been waiting for signals that deep-water drilling would be able to resume, and I think they'll take this as that signal."
Industry officials hailed the action.
"Taking the Department of Interior at its word that this is not a token permit and that many are lined up to be approved in the near future, today's action sends a calming signal to operators, producers and service companies that the long drought is just about over," Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said.