There is increasing interest in the exploitation of the deep subsurface of the Netherlands for purposes other than conventional oil and gas production, such as geothermal energy, shale gas exploitation and the disposal of radioactive waste, so for technical and environmental reasons it is important to understand the composition of the deep groundwater. A synthesis has been made of almost 200 existing groundwater analyses for the Oligocene and older formations in the Netherlands. Three groundwater categories are considered: (1) deep oil and gas reservoirs, (2) deep, buried and confined aquifers and (3) shallower, semi-confined aquifers with or without outcrop areas nearby. No distinct water types are found but a continuous series, with Cl ranging from around 10,000 to 200,000 mg l−1: the highest concentrations are found in the reservoirs and the lowest in the semi-confined aquifers. The most saline brines are found in the northern onshore area and adjacent offshore area, where Permian and Triassic rock salt also occurs regionally in the subsurface. The groundwater is usually pH-neutral, saturated in carbonates and anaerobic. Anhydrite saturation occurs when the Cl concentration exceeds 100,000 mg l−1, and halite saturation occurs at Cl concentrations close to 200,000 mg l−1. Few tracer analyses have been done for δ2H–H2O, δ18O–H2O, δ37Cl, Br, Li and B, which makes a rigorous palaeohydrological interpretation impossible. Lithium and B may be controlled by water–rock interaction which makes them less suitable as tracers. Some of the analyses suggest that dissolution of rock salt plays a role in determining the salinity of groundwater for some deep wells in the southern part of the Netherlands, whereas other analyses suggest that evaporated seawater influences the salinity in the associated wells. Cation-exchange patterns and alkalinity to Ca ratios indicate that groundwater in the deep, buried and shallow, semi-confined aquifers is usually freshening. Six 14C analyses of samples from the buried aquifers indicate an apparent age of at least 20,000 years. Six δ37Cl analyses of formation waters from reservoirs in South-Holland suggest diffusion of Cl from a brine towards fresher water, and the associated K and also Li concentrations further suggest that these brines are related to rock salt dissolution and are not the residue of evaporated seawater. The high Ca concentrations are enigmatic for the hypersaline formation waters in the reservoirs. A limited series of samples had been analysed for various trace elements. The median concentrations are similar to the seawater and Dutch background concentration limits for shallow groundwater, but maximum concentrations can be up to three orders of magnitude higher. In conclusion, the data synthesis shows that the composition of groundwater in reservoirs and aquifers of Palaeogene and older age varies strongly in salinity at the national scale. Presence of evaporite deposits and diffusive transport seem to play important roles in controlling the salinity. Many existing analyses have no or only a few tracer analyses, that even vary among the samples. A complete suite of analyses is needed to elucidate the hydrogeological and geochemical processes that control the groundwater composition.