A proposed First Nations-led pipeline through northern Alberta and B.C. would protect Indigenous rights and be a world environmental leader, while unlocking Canada’s vast oil and gas reserves, says the project’s principal proponent.

It’s a twist in the story of First Nations people who have been on the frontlines of the national pipeline debates, leading protests and occupations against proposed pipelines running through their territories, while federal court rulings have quashed proposed projects, citing Ottawa’s failure to properly consult with First Nations communities.

All 35 First Nations along the proposed route for the 1,500-km Eagle Spirit pipeline are in support, says Calvin Helin, president of Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings. Under the proposal, First Nations would become the major equity holders, share in the profits and control the environmental model. Eagle Spirit is raising capital and plans to apply for federal regulatory approval next year.

Helin told CTV’s Your Morning Friday that the proposed environmental standard for the project is the best in the world.

“They have a model that will bring a standard that is higher than the current proposed ocean protection plan by the federal government.”

The pipeline would cut more than 100 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from the “current practice of extracting oil,” said Helin.

“It addresses all the criticisms of the current oilsands practices.”

The projected cost is about $12 billion, compared to about $6.5 billion for the Northern Gateway and $9.3 billion for Trans Mountain.

Eagle Spirit faces other major obstacles. Federal legislation passed the House of Commons earlier this year that would ban tankers carrying crude oil from loading or unloading at ports along the ecologically sensitive northern coast of British Columbia. The bill is now being considered by the Senate.

“This is something that has been done without consultation and is being challenged by the First Nations and they will quash it,” said Helin, who is a member of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation on the north coast near Prince Rupert where the proposed pipeline would terminate.

Helin says the proposed port for Eagle Spirit is much safer than the one that was part of the Northern Gateway plan. The pipeline route also runs much further north through Alberta and B.C.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled Northern Gateway in 2016 and a federal appeal court overturned approval of the Trans Mountain project last month, saying the approval process was flawed and failed to properly consult First Nations.

The Trudeau government is pressing forward with plans to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion after Kinder Morgan Canada decided not to move forward with the expansion. The government announced its review of the marine impact of oil tanker traffic related to that development Friday, which was an element of the court’s decision.