Environmental activists and lawmakers who have criticized BP heralded the suspension, calling it an appropriate penalty resulting from criminal behavior.
"When someone recklessly crashes a car, their license and keys are taken away," said Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. "The wreckage of BP's recklessness is still sitting at the bottom of the ocean."
BP's optimism Wednesday that the suspension would be lifted quickly appeared to conflict with a complex set of steps the EPA said the company must take before the agency will begin to consider lifting the ban.
An EPA official said Wednesday that BP's plea agreement in the criminal case includes a provision for how BP can satisfy the government's concerns. That order, if the court accepts it during sentencing, would give BP 60 days to address the conditions that led to violations. If the government approves the plan, it becomes part of BP's criminal probation.
Even once the criminal case is resolved, the suspension still could remain in effect as a civil case against BP goes forward, said the EPA official, who spoke on condition because the official was not authorized to discuss terms of the agreement publicly. BP's resistance to billions of dollars in civil penalties might be seen as a sign it still hasn't taken responsibility for the disaster.
BP faces huge claims covering the billions of dollars in civil penalties the U.S. government and the Gulf states are seeking because of environmental damage. A trial is scheduled for early next year, although negotiations to reach a settlement have been under way. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the government intends to show in the civil case that BP was grossly negligent in causing the spill.
Shares of BP PLC, the parent company, initially dropped on the New York Stock Exchange when the Obama administration announced the suspension, but had recovered by the close of trading Wednesday.
"How big this is depends on how long it lasts," said Phil Weiss, an analyst at Argus Research, adding that if BP misses out on multiple sales of public lands, "it's a much bigger concern."