U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the litigation, said in the order that the proposed terms of a class settlement would be submitted to the court for approval.
He also adjourned the first phase of the trial over the spill, which was scheduled to begin on March 5.
Barbier had previously delayed the start of the trial to allow a group called the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee to continue to negotiate a settlement with BP.
The committee represents the interests of fisherman and businesses who say their livelihoods were damaged by the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and subsequent spill.
Eleven people were killed and 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed from the mile-deep Macondo oil well in by far the worst offshore U.S. oil spill.
A settlement would remove a significant portion of the complex case, but it would not put an end to BP's exposure.
The oil giant still faces claims by the U.S. government, which is pursuing violations of the Clean Water Act and other laws, which could result in fines totalling billions of dollars.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers that the Justice Department was prepared to go to trial.
BP also faces claims from Gulf states as well as its drilling partners.
(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth; Editing by Nick Macfie)