At a spill site near Bemidji, Minnesota, crude oil at the water table has been undergoing anaerobic biodegradation for over 30 years. Previous work at this site has shown that methane produced from biodegradation of the oil migrates upward and is oxidized in a methanotrophic zone midway between the water table and the surface. To compare microbial activity measurement methods from multiple locations in the oil body, surficial carbon dioxide efflux, methanogen and methanotroph concentrations, and oil degradation state were collected. Carbon dioxide effluxes over the oil body averaged more than four times those at the background site. Methanotrophic bacteria concentrations measured using pmoA were over 105 times higher above the oil-contaminated sediments compared with the background site. Methanogenic archaea measured using mcrA ranged from 105 to over 107 in the oil and were below detection in the background. Methanogens correlated very well with methanotroph concentrations (r = 0.99), n-alkylcyclohexane losses as a proxy for degradation state (r = − 0.96), and somewhat less well with carbon dioxide efflux (r = 0.92). Carbon dioxide efflux similarly correlated to methanotroph concentrations (r = 0.90) and n-alkylcyclohexane losses (r = − 0.91).