The biggest impact of lower oil prices on future output may well be not in North America, where many people are looking for it, but in the rest of the world. Even before the collapse in prices, major oil and natural-gas companies had become preoccupied with the continually rising costs of developing new supply and were heeding the call from investors for “capital discipline.”

This price decline will turn this preoccupation into an obsession. The result will be a slowdown and reduction in major new investments around the world. The losers will be the nations trying to woo investment for new oil and natural-gas projects. Countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are already finding that fewer companies are showing up to bid for new opportunities, and such bids that are proffered will be lower, perhaps much lower, than governments were expecting. The days are past when these countries can insist on very tough terms in taxes, royalties and other requirements that drive up costs and cause delay.

The drama is far from over. If prices remain close to their current level, OPEC members will likely come together again to reassess the market, especially as the stronger winter demand fades with the approach of spring. But a pickup in world economic growth, or new disruptions or geopolitical crises in the Middle East or North Africa or elsewhere, could send prices up again.