Physically and chemically (Corexit 9500) generated Macondo 252 oil dispersions, or emulsions (no Corexit), were prepared in an oil-on-seawater mesocosm flume basin at 30–32 °C, and studies of oil compound depletion performed for up to 15 days. The use of Corexit 9500 resulted in smaller median droplet size than in a physically generated dispersion. Rapid evaporation of low boiling point oil compounds (C ⩽ 15) appeared in all the experiments. Biodegradation appeared to be an important depletion process for compounds with higher boiling points in the dispersions, but was negligible in the surface emulsions. While n-alkane biodegradation was faster in chemically than in physically dispersed oil no such differences were determined for 3- and 4-ring PAH compounds. In the oil dispersions prepared by Corexit 9500, increased cell concentrations, reduction in bacterial diversity, and a temporary abundance of bacteria containing an alkB gene were associated with oil biodegradation.