Last year saw record low global oil and gas discoveries. The 2018 picture looks similar, despite a nascent major return to deepwater drilling. The Middle East, a bright spot in the downturn, kept drilling at near-record levels in 2017, but dwindling cash reserves mean activity has eased.

The Middle East’s key oil and gas producers defied the global downturn in the three years following the collapse of oil prices in mid-2014. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Oman all responded to...