Study of a database of 350 giant oilfields show these to be dynamic short-lived phenomena, with a median age of 35 Ma. A third show evidence for post-entrapment destructive processes, particularly erosion, fault leakage, gas flushing and biodegradation. Many cases of biodegradation may occur prior to complete filling of the oilfield. Re-entrapment of oil released from spilling or breached traps is common. The main controls on oilfield preservation are post-entrapment tectonism and seal type, with temperature and hydrodynamic regimes being secondary factors. Destructive processes are concentrated in shallow and deep zones and in seepage-prone traps such as compressional anticlines. Such factors strongly influence the distribution of preserved light oilfields, with preservation potential maximized in tectonically quiescent basins with evaporite seals, e.g. the Middle East and the Permian Basin. More attention is required, particularly in older petroleum systems, to models involving post-entrapment leakage and re-migration.