The Cretaceous hosts the highest hydrocarbon potential among all geological stratigraphic sequences worldwide, and the Lower Cretaceous in coastal southeastern China, with the development of black mudstones and shales, has potential for hydrocarbon generation. This potential, therefore, is of significance to regional hydrocarbon exploration both onshore and offshore; however, it has not been investigated in detail. Here, we address this issue based on the results of integrated organic geochemistry and petrology of four representative outcrop sections in the region. Results show that there are two possible source rock sequences in the Lower Cretaceous of coastal southeastern China, that is, a lower sequence represented by the Bantou Formation black mudstones in the Fujian Province and an upper interval represented by the Guantou Formation black mudstones or calcareous mudstones in the Zhejiang Province. The organic matter abundance of these two formations reaches levels of poor to good source rocks. The kerogen is dominated by type III, whereas type II can also be found locally in the northwestern Fujian Province. Most samples are highly mature to overmature, except for the samples with less influence of volcanism in the northern Guangdong Province. Comparatively, the organic matter abundance of the early-stage source rocks is higher than for the late-stage rocks, and the kerogen type is less favorable; however, the maturity shows little correlation with age and is largely related to volcanism. Therefore, the Lower Cretaceous in coastal southeastern China seems to have hydrocarbon potential (gas in particular) in local areas, including the northern Guangdong Province and its analog in offshore basins for the early stage and the northwestern Fujian Province and its analog in offshore basins for the late stage. These results and understanding provide insights for expanding new hydrocarbon exploration targets in southeastern China both onshore and offshore and may also have implications for understanding the regional Cretaceous geology.

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