Oil spills often spell disaster for marine birds caught in slicks. However, the impact of oil pollution on seabird population parameters is poorly known because oil spills usually occur in wintering areas remote from breeding colonies where birds may be distributed over a wide area, and because it is difficult to separate the effects of oil pollution from the effect of natural environmental variation on seabird populations. Using a long-term data set we show that over-winter survival of adult common guillemots (Uria aalge) is negatively affected by both the incidence of four major oil-spills in their wintering grounds and high values of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index. After controlling for the effect of the NAO index, we show that winter mortality of adult guillemots is doubled by major oil pollution incidents. Our results demonstrate that oil pollution can have wide-scale impacts on marine ecosystems that can be quantified using populations of marked individuals to estimate survival.