1. n. [Drilling]
A device that turns the drillstring. It consists of one or more motors (electric or hydraulic) connected with appropriate gearing to a short section of pipe called a quill, that in turn may be screwed into a saver sub or the drillstring itself. The topdrive is suspended from the hook, so the rotary mechanism is free to travel up and down the derrick. This is radically different from the more conventional rotary table and kelly method of turning the drillstring because it enables drilling to be done with three joint stands instead of single joints of pipe. It also enables the driller to quickly engage the pumps or the rotary while tripping pipe, which cannot be done easily with the kelly system. While not a panacea, modern topdrives are a major improvement to drilling rig technology and are a large contributor to the ability to drill more difficult extended-reach wellbores. In addition, the topdrive enables drillers to minimize both frequency and cost per incident of stuck pipe.
See: hook, kelly, make a connection, rotary table, stuck pipe